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EU food system “stress-test” underscores urgent need for political action to foster food system resilience

  • The “Food Alert” project brought together over 60 European food systems experts and practitioners to explore practical policy responses to a simulated food crisis.
  • Twelve short- and long-term policy ideas emerged from the simulation, from mandating strategic food reserves to increased investment in food innovation.
27 Mar 2024

BRUSSELS – In light of worsening climate-related risks to food and agriculture, the “Food Alert” project – the first of its kind to systematically “stress test” the EU’s food system though an interactive, multi-stakeholder, two-day workshop – published a detailed report on its methodology and substantive findings. The report concludes that urgent EU-level political action is needed for effective short-term crisis preparedness and response coordination, and for longer-term crisis prevention. EIT Food, the Lead Sponsor of the Food Alert project, is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

In February, the Food Alert convening partners (Sciences Po, Centre for Systems Solutions, Prospero and Partners, Chatham House, INRAe, and the European Policy Centre) brought together 60 European food system experts and practitioners from the European Commission, member state governments, industry, civil society, academia, and media, challenging them to develop practical policy responses to a fictional, but very realistic, food system crisis involving multiple climate-induced supply “shocks.” Participants were assigned roles based on various worldviews, organisational values and perspectives in the fields of governance, food regulation, production, trade, and consumption. Workshop participants were then grouped into three breakout groups that were prompted to analyse three topics, specifically: Crisis Responses (short-term), Agriculture and Food Production (medium-term focus), and Trade and Finance (longer-term).

Twelve policy ideas for further analysis and debate emerged from the three groups of workshop participants, including:

  • Upscaling food reserves through a new Food Allocation Reserve Management (FARM) programme.
  • Relaxing environmental standards for critical food products imported in the EU in times of food shortage.
  • Guaranteeing support of vulnerable populations in times of crises.
  • Increasing investments in food innovation, particularly in alternative protein development.
  • Prioritising the use of crops for food and feed rather than biofuels.
  • Supporting regional food supply chains for more resilience and transparency during crises.
  • Establishing a joint EU purchasing mechanism; and,
  • Strengthening the EC’s recently created European Food System Crisis preparedness and response Mechanism (EFSCM).

All twelve ideas, with detailed explanations, can be found in the full report.

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Director Strategy and policy analysis, DG AGRI, European Commission, will participate as a keynote speaker at the launch of the report at the Dutch Embassy in Brussels, on Wednesday 27th March, starting at 14:00 CET.

“A key inhibitor to more resilient food systems is the dearth of tools that can bridge the gap between scientific evidence and policy application; crisis simulation workshops like ‘Food Alert’, which engage multiple communities simultaneously and force participants to broaden their perspectives through role-playing, effectively marry up scientific evidence with real-world political processes in a way that studies and reports alone cannot. We know more crises are coming, faster and harder; we need to better prepare for those crises right now to decrease the risks of future food insecurity.”

- Chris Hegadorn, Lead Organiser of “Food Alert” and Adjunct Professor of Global Food Politics at Sciences Po University Paris

"We live in a poly-crisis, constantly surprised by new emergencies. We wish we could travel in time to prepare before catastrophes strike.

“With policy simulations based on plausible crisis scenarios, we can! With crisis simulation, we can identify food system vulnerabilities to improve coordination, build response mechanisms, and strengthen the overall system resilience at all levels: regional, national, and local."

- Piotr Magnuszewski, Scientific Director of the Centre for Systems Solutions, responsible for the policy simulation and technical scenario development

"Our current food system is highly vulnerable to external shocks. One of EIT Food’s core Missions focuses on the need to improve food security and safety by enabling and establishing resilient food supply chains.

“The Food Alert project has been game-changing in introducing the concept of “stress-testing” to Europe’s food system for the very first time. We are thrilled to support the project, and hope that this is the beginning of a broader conversation on how governments and actors across the food system can work together to prepare for future crises."

- Ilario Ingravallo, Mission Lead – Reducing Risk for a Fair & Resilient Food System, EIT Food

“Food systems are extremely complex due to intertwined biological, climatic, economic, political, and human factors, among others. As a result, disruptions sometimes throw up unexpected effects.

“The Food Alert scenario is carefully constructed by combining research and expertise from different perspectives to capture those intricacies, which participants then grapple with during the simulation. Having to deal with these unexpected effects under the real-time pressure of the simulation forces participants to think on their feet and better prepares them for facing real crises in future.”

- Kristen Sukalac, Partner at Prospero and Partners

“In times of increased uncertainty, we believe the novel foresight approach developed with the “Food Alert” project, combining science-based scenario building, design fiction and role play, is very promising for stimulating collective intelligence and imagining how policies will support more resilient future food systems.”

- Guy Richard, Director of Foresight Analyses at INRAE

“In a world of increasing volatility, from climate’s impacts and geo-political tensions, we must expect shocks to our systems; but they are hard to predict. Stress-testing, such as that done by the “Food Alert” project, is a crucial part of our planning for the future.”

EIT Food, as Lead Sponsor of the project, played a critical role in providing ideas for workshop participants from among its broad network and in offering feedback on the Brussels food policy environment. The project is also supported by the Agriculture Ministry of the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which contributed expertise and leadership on food and agriculture policy when designing the scenario of the crisis simulation.

- Tim Benton, Science Director at Chatham House

Notes to editor:

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