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There is broad support from 22 EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland, the international world of business and healthcare patient organisations for gradually making food products healthier by reducing salt, saturated fat and sugars. Member States, the food industry and NGOs are working together to achieve this goal.
On 22 February 2016, a conference was held in Amsterdam in the context of the Netherlands’ presidency of the EU. Dutch Minister Edith Schippers (Health, Welfare & Sport) and State Secretary Martijn van Dam (Economic Affairs) played host to delegations from the world of business, the food industry, retail (supermarkets), NGOs and Member States. European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis (Health and Nutrition), Deputy Director-General for Business & Industry, Antti Peltomäki and the WHO and non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland also took part, marking the first time that these parties had come together on this scale.
During the conference, broad support was expressed for the ‘Roadmap for action’, in which the delegates underlined the urgency for concerted action to gradually make the product offering healthier by reducing the levels of salt, saturated fat and added sugars (calories) in food products. This will require public-private partnerships which include experts from the Member States as well as representatives from the food industry, patient organisations and consumer associations. The document contains details of the agreements drawn up during the conference by the EU Member States, companies and NGOs present. The roadmap is intended to result in healthier nutrition across the European Union.
Minister Edith Schippers: “I am very happy with the support that has been expressed. This plan is already being backed by 24 European countries. We do not yet have unanimous support and I am doing my best to get even more countries on board but in the meantime I want to set to work, otherwise we will just keep waiting. During today’s conference we have laid a good foundation for working together on healthy products so that the healthy choice will also become the easy one.”
State Secretary Martijn van Dam from Economic Affairs: “Innovation is the key to enabling the agri-food sector and food manufacturers to produce the healthier food that is required. Now that so many Member States and major food manufacturers have reached agreement with one another, we can take the next steps. It is important to take a joint approach, because EU citizens eat food that originates in all four corners of Europe.”
The diet of most European citizens is too high in salt, saturated fat and sugars. This is contributing to a continuing rise in the number of people with diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Various European countries are already working to reduce the levels of salt, saturated fat and sugars in food products. However, their approaches differ considerably, despite the existence of a single European market. It is therefore important to facilitate collaboration at European level in order to make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices. The conference was the prelude to the informal and formal European Councils of Ministers for Public Health that will be held later this spring, when it is expected that political decisions will be made.
Earlier that month, on 11 February, a compendium of essays called ‘Aan Tafel!’ (‘Dinner is served!’) was published. The presentation of the compendium formed the kick-off for the dialogue on the future of food supply – because the food system must be overhauled, according to Martijn van Dam. “We need a system that is fairer for farmers, more transparent for consumers and more natural to ease the pressure on our overburdened planet, which has to meet the growing world population’s demand for food.”
Changes to the food system are necessary to be able to continue to guarantee sufficient, sustainable and healthy food in the long term, both in the Netherlands and globally. Therefore, the Dutch government is keen to move towards an integral food policy which revolves around public health, ecological sustainability and food safety. Various meetings and debates are being organised on this topic in the coming months. The government will submit details of the outcomes of this dialogue on food to the Dutch House of Representatives in the autumn.
To get this dialogue started, State Secretary Van Dam has invited ten opinion-leaders and key figures from the food world to share their future vision of food and food production. The compendium of essays was presented in the POSSE restaurant at Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam. After the presentation, State Secretary Van Dam discussed the future of food security with the essayists.