Consumers are ready to change their buying habits to help save the planet, a consumer rights advocate has claimed, but are being "confused" by retailers.
Speaking on day two of the Farm to Fork conference, director general of the European Consumer Organisation Monique Goyens acknowledged that consumers need to change their buying and eating habits, but said they are "overwhelmed" by the need for changes in many aspects of modern life.
Food is only one part of the changes in consumer habits needed for sustainability, citing transport and travel as two other areas.
"It’s overwhelming, quite a shift of tectonic plates, and people need support," she said.
Ms Goyens cited a survey conducted last year, which showed that consumers are ready to change their food habits to protect the environment. Barriers include price, knowledge, and confusing information.
One in three are willing to eat less red meat, the survey showed, with two-thirds willing to waste less food through more informed purchasing and food use.
"We need to make the healthy option the cheapest and most accessible one," she said, adding the opinion that the most sustainable food is not necessarily the dearest to produce, but profit is being taken along the food chain.
If the European Parliament went for all-organic food in its own restaurants, that would be a welcome step, she concluded.
Retailers have responsibility
"The retailer is the gamechanger in terms of food choices," said Ika van de Pas of the Milleau Central, a sustainability information centre.
She directly placed responsibility for driving change on the shoulders of the retail sector.
"Consumers need to be empowered, but food choices are not always rational," she said, adding that supermarkets can make healthy food choices the easiest to buy.
"Consumers merely confirm the food choices that retailers make for them," she said.
Retailers are the point of control, they choose what we eat through what they buy
"Retailers are the point of control, they choose what we eat through what they buy.
"We have discussions in our community as citizens, but when we enter a supermarket, we are consumers making choices in a split second.
"We have to empower and help consumers to make sustainable choices easily, we should be there at that moment where the consumer makes their choices," she concluded.
Farmers are important partners for retailers, said Mella Frewen of Food Drink Europe, a retailers' representative body.
It’s important not to make people feel guilty in their food choices, she added. She went on to say that if you want to eat more sustainably, you don’t need to go vegan, you could simply reduce the amount of meat you eat, and that the quality of meat consumed was a sustainability factor.