Sustaining European Food Futures

2 October 2023

The discussion surrounding sustainable food systems was at the forefront of Politico’s Future of Food and Farming Summit last Thursday. André Sobczak, Secretary General at Eurocities, was invited to share insights from member cities implementing sustainable food policies and solutions.

This dialogue occurs at a pivotal moment, given the postponement of the Sustainable Food Systems Framework Law at the European level. “It’s crucial to maintain high ambitions concerning food sustainability, with cities playing a significant role in fostering greener, healthier, and more inclusive food systems,” insisted Sobczak.

Delays and concerns at European Level

The anticipation surrounding the European Commission’s proposal on sustainable food systems is met with delays, now expected in November 2023. Concerns are rising about potential shelving of such a crucial proposal due to increasing worries related to food security.

The anticipated shared definitions and principles are key in shaping future policies at all levels, targeting food environments and stimulating participative processes.

In parallel, the Waste Framework Directive saw the introduction of mandatory targets for food waste reduction, requiring European Member States to enact necessary measures to reduce food waste by the end of 2030.

These legislative changes will impact the initiatives at the local level, though most Eurocities members were hoping for more ambitious targets, aiming for a 50% reduction of edible food waste by 2030, aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Cities taking charge

André Sobczak at the Future of Food and Farming Summit
André Sobczak at the Future of Food and Farming Summit

While Europe is stalling, cities are leading the way and showcasing innovative approaches to sustainable food. For instance, Birmingham is converting a car park into an urban farm, and both Groningen and Thessaloniki are investing in urban farms to reconnect locals with food production and promote healthy diets.

Copenhagen has introduced a dynamic purchasing system to include smaller farmers in food procurement. Other cities like Grenoble and Tirana are developing urban-rural linkages, and Milan is focusing on food waste recovery, collection, and upcycling.

In Bordeaux, initiatives like ‘Laboratoire d’Initiatives Alimentaires’ are pioneering food democracy, empowering residents to work towards healthy and local food. And social markets in the metropolis are working actively to provide fair access to quality and local food, forming part of a territorial network aiming to enhance local and quality supply.

Many cities are mindful of food justice and advocate for universal access to nutritious and affordable food, confronting the systemic and structural disparities in food access.

The way forward

Eurocities, through its Working Group on Food and European funded projects Food Trails and Cleverfood, continues to support cities in defining baseline scenarios, exchanging experiences, and measuring the impact of their policy actions. Cities are striving for clear targets, multi-level governance, and investment in food innovation, ensuring that the ambitions set by the Green Deal are met and that sustainable food strategies are developed effectively.

The participation in the Paris summit highlighted the important role cities play in achieving food sustainability amidst concerns of dilution of the European Green Deal’s promises (#GreenDealOrBust). Cities are testbeds for innovative solutions in sustainable food systems, focusing on inclusivity, health, and environmental considerations. The postponement and concerns surrounding the Sustainable Food Systems Framework Law only underscore the urgent need for action, with cities demonstrating their readiness and capability to lead the way in transforming food systems for a sustainable future.


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer