Think global, act local
Food has long since ceased to be a local business. Just as empires were built on commodities shipped from all four corners of the world, today’s shopping baskets contain a smorgasbord of delights produced in local fields and distant factories.
In a connected world, where your food comes from is increasingly irrelevant so long as there’s a secure supply of sufficient quantities. But the globalisation of the food economy has posed challenges for food governance as local, national and supra-national governments and institutions such as the EU and WTO vie to set the rules of the game.
Bringing together these multiple levels of governance can sometimes feel like pushing a heavy barrel uphill, but it’s important that local and global should not be viewed as in competition and that we look for synergies between the two. This means global institutions learning from and encouraging grass roots food movements and those at the centre of local food policy ensuring efforts are directed towards international objectives on development, health and nutrition and environmental sustainability.
Throughout the EU there are examples of local food policy initiatives that are attempting to provide a template for what a sustainable food system should look like. In July 2014, the Municipality of Milan and Fondazione Cariplo signed an agreement aimed at developing the city’s food policy over a five-year term. The agreement recognises the central role sustainable food plays for all urban agglomerations and its aim is to act as an instrument to support the government in developing the city and making it more sustainable and equitable, starting from food-related issues.
In the Netherlands, meanwhile, the Amsterdam food strategy acknowledges the fact that almost 40% of Amsterdam’s ecological footprint is caused by the provision of food, which is also a key driver of poor health. The result is a strategy to develop healthy, sustainable, regional food chains, with a special emphasis on urban-rural relationships.
While local initiatives are generally welcomed by institutions such as the EU, it’s also true to say that they can be thwarted by rules set at a higher level, often those aiming to protect free trade. For instance, dietary guidelines from member states that favour local food consumption have previously been opposed by the EU on the grounds they go against the principles of the single market.
Tensions between environmental, social and economic issues are inevitable when multiple interests collide. The key is to ensure enough autonomy to allow countries and regions to pursue their own progressive food strategies, while ensuring these don’t compromise wider policy objectives.
*A version of this blog was first published on the LiveWell for Life website http://livewellforlife.eu/blogs/5827