17 October 2019

What contribution can school meals give to sustainability and regional development?

The 30th iteration of ICLEI’s Breakfast@Sustainability’s took place during the 2019 European Week of Regions and Cities and was organised in partnership with the Committee of the Regions and the Organic Cities Network Europe. The event focussed on the role of sustainable food procurement for schools.

If used strategically, sustainable food procurement is a powerful tool that governments have at their disposal to create stronger regional value chains. Good practice examples were brought by Aurélie Solans from the city of Paris and Carsten Friis Toft from the city of Copenhagen (Procura+ Participant). In the city of Paris, around 30 million meals are served public canteens. In 2015, the City Council adopted a Sustainable food Plan that explicitly emphasizes local, organic and seasonal products and aims at reducing meat consumption by 20%. The plan is achieving remarkable results and 2018 46,8%  of meals served in public canteens were sustainably sourced, making the Paris municipality the leading public purchasers of organic food in France. 

The city of Copenhagen reached its goals by focusing on investment in awareness-raising, market engagement prior, during and after the tendering process. Much emphasize was also put on dialogue with kitchen staff and on educating them to ensure they know how to work with products. ”We have the policies, now we need to make them into reality”, said Carsten Friis Toft from the city of Copenhagen. Building on this Mr. Serafini, Director of the Organic Cities Network Europe, highlighted "the most important novelty is that citizens, now more than ever, influence with their food choices.”

However, existing public procurement rules constrain innovative food procurement also. Mr.  Kompatscher - President of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano and Regional Councilor, CoR Rapporteur on Opinion on European Sustainable Food Policy, drew attention to the paradoxical situation we are facing. While there is much effort on making it possible for private consumers to consciously buy local, organic food (in line with von der Leyen's Farm to Fork Strategy), this is not the case when it comes to public procurement:  the principles of EU market hinder the possibility for public tenders to make the same choice. According to the EU, bidding for regional products would distort competition and as a result, public tenders have to develop additional award criteria and find 'creative' solutions that empower local providers.

In response, Mr. Schmidt - Chair of the Sustainable Development Observatory, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called for the creation of a European Food Policy Council, which should be multi-stakeholder and multi-level, involving local and regional authorities and initiatives and for the creation of an Expert Group to formulate Europe-wide sustainable dietary guidelines.

Christof Kienel - Head of Unit, Commission for Natural Resources, European Committee of the Regions, emphasised that "sustainable food in school canteens and schools shows the role of the CoR and local and regional actors here in Brussels to link local and regional expertise to see what does work and does not, to help EU to take better decisions".  

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