Dutch food strategy needed

The world of food is facing three important challenges: ecological sustainability, public health and robustness. The food system has changed remarkably. A more volatile environment can be expected. The WRR - an important think-tank for the Dutch government – argues that these challenges and the changed circumstances of food production necessitate an adjustment of current agricultural policies.

In its report ‘Towards a Food Policy’ (Naar een voedselbeleid), The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) recommends a shift from agricultural policy to a food policy and a focus on the resilience of the food system.

Food production has increasingly become industrialised. The food system is more globalised. Trade and foreign direct investment have expanded and production chains have become longer and more international. While agriculture is still crucial to food production, the dominant power has now shifted to non-agricultural players like seed producers and supermarket chains. Moreover, there have been significant changes in consumption patterns with an increasing consumption of animal products and processed food. The route from farm to fork has become considerably longer and more complex. An international, dynamic and complex ‘food net’ has emerged in which flows of materials are processed and combined into food products.

Food policy

A food policy will need to address both the changed reality and the challenges the food net faces. Among other things, this requires taking into account the variety of values associated with food. The currently dominant emphasis on productivity and exports leaves little room for other values. The report advises to stronger anchor ecological sustainability and public health, both at national and at international (EU and WTO) levels. This should also be taken into account in the ongoing TIPP-negotiations.

The more volatile environment demands a focus on the resilience of the food net. This implies first and foremost enhancing variety, not only of players, but also of crop species, animal breeds and materials. Competition law should not just consider market power and consumer prices, but also the resilience of the food net. Intellectual property legislation and concentration in the seed industry should also be perceived from this perspective.

Dutch law requires that the Dutch government responds publicly to every WRR Report. The Dutch Cabinet’s reaction to the WRR report Naar een Voedselbeleid is expected shortly.

Note for editors

The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), based in The Hague, is an independent think-tank established by law in 1976 to provide science-based advice to the Dutch government on long-term societal issues.