Food system transformation:
Is public procurement the key to change?
Representatives of the Municipality of Torres Vedras (PT) - on the left, Inês Morais, Food Safety Superior Technician, and the City of Rybnik (PL) - on the right, Monika Kubisz, Public Officer, hand over the Sustainable Food Procurement Manifesto to Member of the European Parliament Karin Karlsbro - in the middle.
IMAGE: Buy Better Food
In order to fulfil its commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the EU has to transform its food system. Public procurement presents an essential opportunity to kick off this change, and provides a meaningful framework for reaching shared goals on climate, health, food waste, social equity, and more.
Buy Better Food is a European advocacy campaign that focuses on public food procurement as a driver of transformation towards a sustainable, healthy and fair food system in the European Union, in line with the SDGs and the EU Farm to Fork Strategy.
One huge opportunity to create a more sustainable food system is by procuring better school food for kids across the EU. Buy Better Food's current petition for healthy, sustainable school meals has gathered more than 12,000 signatures, signalling the growing interest in a better food system - especially one that supports the health and well-being of young people. The strong support of the Global School Meals Coalition by several EU Member States, including France, Finland and Germany, shows that the issue of healthy and sustainable school meals is gaining attention at an international level.
Now is also the right time to show public interest and support on the subject, as this year, the European Commission will submit a proposal for the upcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Law, which will play - as a key initiative of the Farm to Fork Strategy - a pivotal role in ensuring healthy meals are available in schools and other public canteens. More specifically, Buy Better Food is pressing for minimum sustainable public procurement standards to be included in the legislative framework, in addition to highlighting the important role of local and regional governments in implementing procurement measures.
93% of people agree that food offered in schools and hospitals should be healthy
Buy Better Food recently emphasised its message by conducting a poll1 in six European countries (France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain). The poll results underscore that the general public recognises the relevance of healthy (public) food: 92.8% of participants agree that food offered in schools and hospitals should be guaranteed to be healthy - with Italy, Spain and Poland having the highest approval rates. Along the same lines, when asked about government spending, 88% of people agree that guaranteeing healthy and sustainable food in public canteens (like schools and hospitals) is a good investment of public money.
More poll results can be accessed here.
Building bridges with civil society
The Buy Better Food coalition builds bridges with civil society, with the aim of advocating for the general public. This often requires working on two tracks: on the one hand, there is a need to bring the complex topic of procurement closer to society by highlighting the transformative power of procurement and providing people with an understanding of the food system.
On the other hand, coalition members must be careful to ensure the European Commission is aware of the coalition and its members’ work, by maintaining a continuous dialogue with Members of the European Parliament.
In March 2023, Members of the European Parliament (MEP), Karin Karlsbro and Franc Bogovič, and representative of the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), Carlos Martín-Óvilo, joined an event co-hosted by Buy Better Food2, focussing on supporting small-scale farmers and public procurement in schools. At the event, attention was brought to key working results, such as the Sustainable Food Procurement Manifesto, which was handed over by two of its endorsers, Torres Vedras (Portugal) and Rybnik (Poland) to MEP Karlsbro in her role as a representative of the European Parliament.
10 municipalities have already endorsed the Sustainable Food Procurement Manifesto.
IMAGE: Buy Better Food
The Sustainable Food Procurement Manifesto outlines seven actionable criteria to help public authorities to buy better food for the health of the planet, people and future generations: healthy food; organic and other agro-ecological products; support for small-scale farmers; climate action; social economy and labour rights; fair trade; and animal welfare standards. Nine regional and municipal authorities and organisations have already endorsed the Manifesto (April 2023), and numbers are growing:
- Municipality of Nuoro, Italy
- Municipality of Torres Vedras, Portugal
- Valencia Municipal Food Council, Spain
- Veneto Region, Italy
- Autonomous Province of Bolzano – South Tyrol, Italy
- City of Brasov, Romania
- Municipality of Vicenza, Italy
- City of Rybnik, Poland
- Municipality of Mertola, Portugal
- City of Montpellier, France
By harnessing public interest in sustainable, healthy school food, as well as outlining broader actions aimed at cultivating a more equitable and environmentally conscious food system, Buy Better Food is taking the first steps toward a better food future across Europe.
Local and regional governments are invited to endorse the Sustainable Food Procurement Manifesto advocating minimum standards in public canteens here.
1 The poll was managed by Savanta, a data, market research and advisory company.
2 The event was co-hosted by Buy Better Food and these initiatives/ organisations:
SchoolFood4Change, IFOAM Organics Europe, COACH - Collaborative Agri-food Chains, City Food, ICLEI Europe, Ruralization and the Access To Land Network.