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International Youth Day 2021: The next generation of consumer advocates reimagine the food system

In a year when food systems transformation is at the top of the global agenda – with the UN Food Systems Summit, COP26, and the Nutrition for Growth Summit – it is essential that youth voices are included in these high-level conversations.  

This year’s International Youth Day themed around ‘Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health’, provides an opportunity to demonstrate the unique and innovative perspectives that young people can bring to the table.

The next generation of consumer advocates are leading the way in the shift to healthy and sustainable diets but even more importantly, they can also shed light on the innovative solutions needed to overcome challenges such as food insecurity, malnutrition, and environmental collapse. When we talk about the future, we must take into the account the voice, rights, and needs of the next generation. If we want a food systems transformation that is inclusive, healthy, and safe for all, it is essential to listen to them and take action; to value their perspectives, and encourage young voices to participate in food systems governance. 

Consumers International’s Next Generation Leaders Network brings together 30 young consumer advocates from right across the globe. Today they will share real-life food systems experiences and challenges faced by consumers, and their ambition for a food systems transformation that is fair, safe, and sustainable for all.

Empowering youth voices for consumer rights

Youth leaders are at the forefront of efforts to guarantee all consumers’ right to safe, healthy, and sustainable food. By reimagining the responsibilities of governments across the world, we can ensure that the needs of even the most vulnerable consumers are met; school feeding is an area of particular importance to the next generation of consumer advocates, calling on governments to set an example in the provision of safe, healthy, and sustainable food. 

Another key area of innovation is in consumer information. Young people have demonstrated a strong commitment to buying healthy and sustainable food products, but these intentions are undermined by both a lack of affordability, and the absence of clear or reliable information.  
The next generation of consumer advocates are calling for greater supply chain transparency – including through new traceability technologies – and for new global standards on labelling and marketing, that are independently verified and effectively enforced. 

"The next generation of consumer advocates are helping to reimagine food systems, working to make healthy and sustainable choices the easy option for all consumers by calling for improved product information, tackling misleading claims, and ensuring that trade policy is aligned with sustainability goals." 
Sue Davies, Which? (UK) 

"We need to empower youth leadership and tap their innovative drive to be able to effectively transform our agri-food systems and reach the SDGs by 2030."

- Kazuki Kitaoka, Coordinator of the World Food Forum 2021

Next generation of consumers calling for sustainable food systems

A clear message coming through from youth voices is that food systems transformation cannot be delivered solely through changes in consumption patterns; the next generation of consumer advocates can help to drive progress at all stages of the supply chain. In line with consumers’ right to a healthy environment, youth leaders are calling for a shift towards fair and sustainable food production, supported by investment from governments and commitments from food producers and suppliers. 

Youth innovation is also helping to drive the development of the circular economy; the next generation of consumer advocates have been working hard to help reduce food and packaging waste, not just through consumer behaviour change, but also by promoting innovative solutions to reduce loss and waste at all stages of the supply chain, and by promoting the development of local food systems that allow for more straightforward and efficient supply chains.

"As the next generation of consumer advocates, we should have open dialogues with producers to ensure the production of safe, healthy, and affordable foods for consumers. We can also help educate young consumers on the importance of healthy and sustainable consumption, to empower them to make positive choices." 
 Chris Churchill Omondi, Next Generation Leaders Network, Kenya Consumers Organisation
 

Youth innovation through digitalisation 

Young people have been quick to highlight the value that digital solutions can bring to food systems change. Increased connectivity has been crucial to allowing the next generation of consumer advocates to connect directly with key decision-makers, and with actors at all stages of the supply chain. Youth voices are also calling for a reimagining of how food marketplaces work, using digital technology to empower consumers to have greater access and choice. 

The next generation of consumer advocates are helping to demonstrate that innovation needs to be balanced with well-governed protections. This includes setting standards for consumer privacy and data protection, but also involves innovation to reimagine data ownership and stewardship, giving consumers greater agency to ensure that their data is used for good.

Consumers play an important role in terms of transforming the food system. We are all consumers. But we, as young consumers, have increasing access to a powerful tool: technology, bringing opportunities to accelerate progress.” - Elizabeth Iberico, Next Generation Leaders Network, ASPEC (Peru) 

What can you do? 

Together with the Next Generation Leaders Network and our members around the world, we are calling for a meaningful food transformation that hears and values consumers’ rights and needs! 

  • Read and share this blog with your network to empower the next generation of consumer advocates to drive meaningful change. 
  • Read about our Next Generation Leaders Network. 
  • Read and share our global consumer advocacy statement to ensure consumers’ rights and needs are heard towards the UN Food Systems Summit in September and beyond.