Chocolate pricing

Dietary guidelines for co-benefits: a case for European action


Why, at the end of the day, are dietary guidelines important?

First of all, authoritative guidelines help remove ambiguity about the desired direction of dietary change, saving time and avoiding conceptual confusion (see, for example, bizarre and suggestive wording take the tour today promote “healthy and balanced” diets, as opposed to “healthy” diets only).

Second, they help determine which foods we should eat more – and therefore need a boost, and which don’t. This is essential for getting a clearer idea of ​​the purpose when it comes to designing individual policy measures, including on promotion, pricing, public procurement and for testing the adequacy of labeling systems.

The same goes for marketing regulations. According to the new Danish guidelines, a child aged 7 to 9 is recommended to have “1 chocolate cookie, 2 popsicles and 2 small handfuls of candy (60 g) per week” as well as a maximum of 1 / 3 liter of soft drinks. Children of all ages are not expected to consume energy drinks. This implies that the level of tolerance for the exposure of children to marketing of these products must be set to “zero”.

Third, at a higher level, healthy and sustainable dietary guidelines can help underpin the further development of “co-benefits” policies in the food space. Co-benefits can be achieved in food systems because many dimensions of food systems are closely interconnected and often share similar drivers and solutions, as illustrated, for example, by the One health principle. Adopting a co-benefit policy approach will involve conceptualizing “co-benefit pathways”. These can be viewed as strategic combinations of actions that are mutually reinforcing and that maximize benefits in as many dimensions of food systems as possible.

While healthy and sustainable food guidelines generally do not address more than a handful of dimensions of sustainability, they establish a solid framework by establishing the relative importance of different food groups. Further attention is then required as to how these foods arrive on the table in terms of their broader socio-economic, environmental and animal welfare benchmarks. For example, the observation that sustainable diets in many countries of the world are unaffordable, is a reflection not on food per se, but on people’s socio-economic conditions. Likewise, plant-rich diets can be produced with a high intake of agrochemicals or by following more agro-ecological approaches. Finding the right path forward will depend on many different policies and interventions, but ambitious dietary guidelines can set the parameters for these quests.

What role for Europe?

Despite the importance of sustainable dietary guidelines and despite good examples in several European countries, overall progress in updating national guidelines appears slow. This lack of movement can also stand in the way of a more direct and consistent implementation of the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy.

There is certainly a role for Europe in this regard. One option could be to develop a European meta-guideline, inspired by the FAO / WHO Principles for Sustainable Food, or on the basis of the next update of the Nordic nutritional recommendations in 2022. This is not a far-fetched idea. Although the final published version of the F2F strategy does not contain any action related to the development of sustainable dietary guidelines, several drafts were disclosed before its publication. The idea was therefore considered, but ultimately abandoned, for unknown reasons.

Another approach, which may be more politically timely, is for the Commission to play a coordinating role to underline the urgency to move forward and speed up the national exchange process. Facilitate and finance a Joint action in this area can be part of such an approach.

Whatever path is chosen, food sustainability is a priority and significant movements are expected in this space in the coming years. If the actions of EU countries start to diverge too much, for example due to a lack of common references, this will be a major obstacle for the health and shared future of Europeans. But it is also not unthinkable that the disparities between national laws and practices in terms of promoting healthy and sustainable food may, in the long term, also begin to hamper the proper functioning of the much appreciated European common market.

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