Towards a healthier and more sustainable food system

What is needed to accelerate the transition and what role does government play?

March 2018

Background and request for advice

The Netherlands has a high-quality food production system characterised by extensive innovation, both within the food chain itself and indirectly in other sectors of the economy. There is a lively debate within society about our food and how it is produced. More and more consumers want to make conscious choices in favour of healthier and sustainably produced food. A healthier diet will have a positive impact on the costs of healthcare, while a more sustainable diet will benefit the natural and human environment.

The food landscape has changed drastically in the past decades. Agricultural and food production has undergone further intensification, industrialisation and globalisation due to increased trade, innovation, and greater prosperity. The balance of power within supply chains has shifted, and diets all over the world have changed to include more composite products and more meat, dairy, sugar and sugar-containing beverages. These developments affect the climate and the human environment. The food system – from production to distribution and consumption – accounts for a large share (estimated at 20 to 30%) of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore a major contributor to climate change (UNEP, 2016). In addition, food production and consumption are associated with certain public health problems and negative effects on the quality of the human environment.

Adjustments to the food system are necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of healthy and sustainable food in the long term while reducing the environmental burden.

Bull of vegetables
Picture : Rein Janssen


The points of departure for this advisory project are derived from various relevant national and international agreements such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Dutch Dietary Guidelines 2015. How should food policy in the Netherlands be adjusted to meet the objectives for climate change, health and sustainable development described in these documents, i.e. to ensure that food is produced and consumed in a healthy and sustainable manner? Which requirements must be met and which possibilities and opportunities exist to accelerate the transition to a healthy and sustainable food system? Which choices are inevitable?

In a document entitled ‘Progress in Implementing the Agenda for a Safe, Healthy and Sustainable Food System’, the Cabinet has set out its ambition to make the Netherlands the undisputed global leader in healthy and sustainable food in five to ten years’ time. The Netherlands is to be at the forefront of the development of healthy, innovative products that contain more vegetables and vegetable proteins. Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from food production must be reduced to a minimum, and the Netherlands is to have the world’s lowest consumption of pesticides and antibiotics. In addition, food production must not exceed the earth’s carrying capacity.

The emerging demand for healthier, more sustainable food is a promising development. A shift in production and consumption from animal to vegetable proteins seems inevitable if we want to create a healthier and more sustainable food system. The first steps in this transition have already been taken. Many stakeholders in the Netherlands – from producers to consumers – are contributing to the process. The government seeks to implement a food policy (as outlined in the Agenda for a Safe, Healthy and Sustainable Food System) based on increased engagement with and integration of the various players in the food chain, as recommended in 2014 by the Scientific Council on Government Policy (Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid, WRR).

However, the transition from animal to vegetable protein also entails major changes for consumers, the retail and food industry, and the agricultural sector.

By anticipating these changes in good time, a number of interrelated problems can be addressed. This ensures that the transition will result in a healthier and more sustainable human environment for citizens, a healthier and more sustainable diet for consumers, as well as a more favourable long-term economic outlook for the parties in the food chain.

This advisory project will focus in particular on ways to accelerate the transition, and the associated tasks for government authorities at all levels.

Expected date of publication

The advisory report is expected to be published in early 2018.

Composition of advisory committee

K.J. Poppe, Chair
M. Demmers MBA, committee member until November 1st, 2017
I.Y.R. Odegard MSc, junior member



Information or response: 

If you wish to respond or would like further information, please contact project leader Hannah Koutstaal by e-mail at  (link sends e-mail)