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Why agricultural change also needs a change of diet

by Daniela Nickel (comments: 0)

An organic garden on a plate
To change the agricultural system, people's eating styles must also change. A climate-friendly and ecological diet requires healthy local and seasonal food. © iStock / CharlieAJA

How can a modern, sustainable agricultural and food system succeed? This was the question posed by experts from science, politics and the organic sector at the event "Culinary Arts in the 21st Century" by the German Association of Organic Food Producers. The consensus among the participants was that the agricultural turnaround will fail without a radical change in our usual eating habits.

There is a great demand for a system change towards modern and sustainable agriculture. But how can the change succeed on the basis of the Green Deal and the "Farm to Fork" strategy? "We are still sitting on the wrong agricultural policy," said MEP Martin Häusling at the event "Culinary in the 21st Century", hosted by the German Association of Organic Food Producers (AÖL) and the Greens in the EU Parliament. "Still 75 percent of the money goes to the area and not to the performance of the farmers. With the Farm to Fork strategy, the Commission wants to tackle this."

But a real change of the food system also includes true prices, changed consumption styles and a more sustainable food environment, as the speakers explained. Amelie Michalke, a researcher at the University of Greifswald, has approached the true prices of various foodstuffs in a research project.

Although the project team focused on only four drivers for the calculations, it turned out that especially conventionally produced, animal products would be significantly more expensive. In fact. internalised prices would be a great lever for changes in the food system, but the so-called true-cost accounting alone is not sustainable, says Michalke. The price must always be linked to other measures.

"As long as externalised services are cheapest, it will continue as before," Alex Beck, Executive Director of AÖL, echoed Michalke. However, Beck also expressed certainty that real change requires reconciliation between conception and production. In addition, he pleaded for modernising people's eating styles, for example by drastically reducing meat consumption. Only in this way could the greening of primary production succeed.

According to Beck, this also includes the discussion on sufficiency, i.e. the lowest possible consumption of resources. "We need not be afraid of this debate. Food is a basic human need, so industry players will always have relevance. We are part of the solution."

Consumers need easy choices

Scientist Britta Renner from the University of Konstanz is researching the question of how people's consumer behaviour can be positively influenced. To really change prevailing eating habits, a fairer food environment and a new consumer image would be needed, Renner says. Because daily choices are shaped by selective perception and the corresponding environment. If, for example, the food portions in the canteen are very large, more is eaten automatically.

Renner and Beck see the dovetailing of different disciplines such as advertising, product presentation and consumption as both a solution and a major challenge. For example, easier choices for sustainable nutrition are suitable - for example, through food labels such as climate labels or the Nutri-Score.

Technology is not the solution for the future

According to European parliamentarian, chef and organic farmer Sarah Wiener, however, the Nutri-Score as a food labelling system urgently needs to be corrected and optimised. It would be far from sufficient to label a product only on the basis of its ingredients – it needs to focus on healthy and predominantly plant-based products. The Nutri-Score in its form has already been criticised many times, also within the organic sector. Today's society is decoupled from nature, which provides it with the necessary means to live. "Therefore, we have to awaken the longing for good, healthy things and get back into balance with nature. Industry and even more technology are not the solution for our future," Wiener said.

Carola Strassner, an ecotrophologist at the University of Münster, provided culinary visions of the future for this approach. According to Strassner, these are made up of two aspects: the so-called "Planetary Health Diet" and the yield that local areas will produce ecologically in the future. In the future, the focus will be on vegetables and legumes. As far as possible, the variety of food should not be created through chemical and technical processing, but through methods such as fermentation and the use of spices, explained Strassner.



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