You couldn’t make it up. No, I’m not referring to the Murdochs and News International, but to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Whereas the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) justly receives critical attention, its junior partner the CFP barely registers in mainstream consciousness. Celebrity chefs have done well trying to change this but, as a consortium of EU NGOs said last week, the situation remains dire.

Europe eats a lot more fish than its seas deliver. Overfishing contributes to a decline in stocks, yet fish eating is still encouraged. The New Economics Foundation calculated recently that Europe eats what it fishes by July each year. About half of what Europe eats comes from elsewhere. If planetary justice ruled, then we’d not eat any fish until January 2012. I’m not anticipating that even responsible fish retailers will mothball their chillers today.

The point is tricky. Consumers are being attuned to terms such as ‘line-caught’, ‘dolphin-friendly’, ‘Marine Conservation Society approved’ and even ‘organic’. Back in 2009, the Food Standards Agency responded to critics like myself by advising consumers to “try to choose fish that has been produced sustainably or responsibly managed”, to use assurance scheme logos, and to eat more diverse species. Moves to address general food sustainability via an integrated advice system were then stopped by the government in October. Policymakers seem incapable of rebalancing the mismatch of consumption, fishing and stocks.

Last week, I was in Brussels addressing a big EU civil society meeting on the CAP. There, the situation is like the CFP. Though EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has done a good job engaging with the critics about the evidence and policy gap, progress is painfully slow. He had bad news when I asked if the CAP reforms he’ll finalise in October will consolidate existing programmes on school fruit & vegetables, milk and health education into a new CAP health strand.

It will emerge in the next round, he assured us. So poor diet, land and sea mismanagement, and a mismatch of policy and evidence will continue. Does this give more space to those companies trying to act? Or expose the limitations of corporate responsibility?

It certainly illustrates the complexity of 27 countries making food policy. Alas, the gap between sustainability and reality remains.

Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University