Towards sustainable food systems – the Nordic approach
The ministers of Fisheries, Aquaculture, Agriculture, Food and Forestry of the Nordic Countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and Greenland, Faroe Islands and Åland Islands - had their annual Nordic Council of Ministers’ meeting (MR-FJLS), chaired by the Finnish presidency on the 24th of June 2021.
The Nordic ministers engaged in a political discussion on food systems, and the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit. Introductions to the discussions were given by the Commissioner for international partnerships of the European Union Jutta Urpilainen, and the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization Petteri Taalas. The ministers also received a report from the Nordic stakeholder dialogue on food systems, held the day before the ministerial meeting.
The Nordic Ministers stated the following:
The Nordic countries reiterate their full support for the UN Food Systems Summit and continue to work actively with the global community to reach a Summit leading to concrete action. Achieving Agenda 2030 goals including ending hunger, achieving food security, safer food and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture within planetary boundaries are amongst the greatest challenges facing the world today. Food related global challenges are often systemic in nature and should be tackled through a systems approach. This necessitates cooperation between local, national, regional, and global actors. The Nordic countries strongly support the multilateral system in addressing the global challenges. A holistic approach is imperative and all three dimensions of sustainability – economic, environmental and social – are of crucial importance. The commitment to an inclusive process is most welcome. Dialogue and consultation with all stakeholders in preparing for as well as implementing the results of the Summit is necessary.
Food is fundamental to life and health. The Nordic countries highlight a human rights approach. Equitability and inclusivity should be guiding all polices for sustainable food systems. Everyone should have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. The empowerment of women and girls is central in the transformation of food systems. Special attention should be paid to the poorest and the most vulnerable, and to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. We must address the asymmetries in the food system and strengthen the voice of those less influential. This underlines the commitment to a just transformation and to leaving no one behind. Furthermore, national or regional food culture plays an inherent role in a national food system and can be an important driver for change.
Climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustainable use of natural resources
The Nordic countries have made ambitious commitment to carbon neutrality to reach the Paris goals and innovations to improve carbon sequestration and storage are being developed. At the same time sustainable and climate smart consumption has to be further encouraged. Equally important is adapting agriculture to climate change, as well as to recognize the interlinkages between climate change and biodiversity. Promoting use of local resources and deforestation-free value chains requires action from actors at all levels. A holistic ecosystem approach to production is indispensable: the interlinkages between food, health, water, soil, forest and energy is a key consideration.
Reduction of food loss and waste
The Nordic countries work intensively on the reduction of food loss and waste. A third of food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain. This is not only a huge social and economic loss, but also a great burden on the environment and climate. Public-private partnerships, voluntary agreements negotiated between governments and food chain actors, monitoring, sharing of innovations and best practices and guidance of all actors in the food chain are needed for behavioral changes. A circular economy with upcycling of residues, nutrients and waste is part of the solution.
A healthy and sustainable diet should be accessible and an easy choice for everyone. Actors along the whole food chain, such as food industry, retailers and market actors, are all responsible. Nutritional guidance based on scientific evidence is essential in improving diets. The Nordic nutrition recommendations are an internationally recognized benchmark dating back over 40 years. The 2022 update of the NNR will integrate environmental sustainability into the dietary guidelines.
School meals and nutrition education
Systematic nutrition education guides healthy and nutritious eating habits. A nutritionally balanced school meal is proven to have, not only an important health impact, but also an essential role in improving learning opportunities and results, supporting also equity, gender equality and local economy. The school meal can also be used as a pedagogical tool, providing students with knowledge about sustainable lifestyles and healthy diets. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools, globally millions of children have missed out meals and essential health services. We need to support countries to get the children back to school, address increased child hunger and malnutrition, and recover from the long-term effects of the pandemic. School-based nutrition education is a Nordic tradition that is relevant in a global context.
One Health approach
The health of human beings, animals, plants and the environment are inseparably interlinked. The One Health approach is key to achieving health targets sustainably, by enhancing food safety and preventing zoonoses. International cooperation is needed to promote prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials, parasiticides, steroids and other pharmaceuticals as well as plant production products and biocides used in food production. This same approach is also essential in fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This includes ending all use of antibiotics as growth promoters and routine prophylaxis in animal food production. There is a need for scaling up a further joint Nordic effort in international work. Healthy diets are also urgently needed for recovery from communicable diseases like COVID-19.
The diversity of genetic resources for food and agriculture is crucial for farmers’ ability to adapt their food production to the impact of climate change and ensure the availability of safe and nutritious food. Farmers are the principal managers of both plant and animal genetic resources. At the same time, many of them face seed insecurity at the global level. There is a need to put farmers' access to crop diversity at centre in seed policy and practice. . The maintenance of the genetic diversity that is the foundation of all food production must also be strengthened. The Nordic countries have taken action by investing in the storage of agricultural genetic materials in a Nordic Gene Bank, where the genetic material is at disposal to breeders, farmers and other users. We encourage other gene banks to make use of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as part of their strategy for securing their important seed collections.
Food from the oceans
Increased production and consumption of safe and healthy aquatic foods from sustainable, healthy oceans and inland waters, may contribute to sustainable food systems and food security and nutrition within the planetary boundaries. There is a need to implement a science based and holistic food chain approach, from healthy waters to healthy people to achieve this. Increased production must be based on: transparent science-based advise systems for management, policy and business within the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. We must eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and combat overfishing. The Summit should foster international cooperation ensuring healthy oceans and inland waters, sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture as well as sustainable safe and healthy aquatic foods in diets.
International trade, connecting national food systems into a global food system, has an important role to play in supporting global efforts towards the achievement of sustainable development goals. Open, transparent, and rules-based international trade can contribute positively to a sufficient, safe and healthy food supply for all. Trade should have an important role in fostering the green transition as well as promoting sustainable and responsible value chains.
We - the Nordic countries - continue to strengthen the sustainability of our food systems at the local and national level as well as through activities of the Nordic Council of Ministers and other regional and international fora. We are willing to share our experiences, innovations and best practices in transforming food systems to more sustainable ones. The Nordic countries support transdisciplinary research and innovation projects for sustainable food systems, including through partnerships with third countries.