‘We are currently in a very severe crisis situation. What will our children and grandchildren think about the way we are now exhausting nature in all sorts of ways. […] It is not difficult at all. We know well what we need to do. […] The only question now is can we find enough people who are prepared to do it? And in that regard I am still somewhat pessimistic. I think that very hard lessons lie ahead, that we will get stuck somewhere. And then we will have to change, if it isn’t already too late.’ (Sicco Mansholt, 1975)

The key question at the heart of Expo Milano 2015 was: how can we supply the world’s population with sufficient, healthy and safe food while respecting the planet? As early as 1972, agriculture commissioner Sicco Mansholt had put this issue on the European political agenda. In an urgent letter to the chairman of the European Union, he argued for a radical change of ecological policy, needed to provide the world’s rapidly growing population with food in a sustainable and just manner. This insight conflicted with the unprecedented rationalisation and expansion of European agriculture, an issue on which he had only recently, in 1968, reached an agreement, and which still largely determines European agricultural policy.

Mansholt never received a reply to his letter, and although many people acknowledged the dangers, permanent solutions were never found. Forty years later, the contents of that letter are more relevant than ever, the limits that Mansholt had warned about have been reached, and the system threatens to become mired down, with major social, ecological and economic consequences. That prompted Het Nieuwe Instituut and Slow Food to send the letter again, this time to innovators in the food industry all over the world in order to jointly formulate a new agenda aimed at genuinely increasing the sustainability of our food system.

Het Nieuwe Instituut and Slow Food spoke with farmers, designers, policy makers and researchers about the questions that Mansholt raised in his 1972 letter. The visions and insights formulated resulted in a letter to European policy makers, and will be published during the Dutch chairmanship of the EU in 2016.

Read a summary of Mansholt's letter