Sustainable food system

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A sustainable food system is a type of food system that provides healthy food to people while also providing sustainable impacts on both environmental, economic and social systems that surround food.

Contents

Sustainable food systems start with the development of sustainable agricultural practices, development of more sustainable food distribution systems, creation of sustainable diets and reduction of food waste throughout the system. [1] Sustainable food systems have been argued to be central to many [2] or all [3] 17 Sustainable Development Goals. [4]

Moving to sustainable food systems is an important component of addressing the causes of climate change. A 2020 review conducted for the European Union found that up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions could be attributed to the food system, including crop and livestock production, transportation, changing land use (including deforestation) and food loss and waste. [5] Sustainable food systems are frequently at the center of sustainability focused policy programs, such as proposed Green New Deal programs.

Definition

There are many different definitions of a sustainable food system.

From a global perspective, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations describes a sustainable food system as follows: [1]

A sustainable food system (SFS) is a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. This means that:

The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines a sustainable food system as: [6]

one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment. A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities

The European Union's Scientific Advice Mechanism defines a sustainable food system as a system that: [7]

provides and promotes safe, nutritious and healthy food of low environmental impact for all current and future EU citizens in a manner that itself also protects and restores the natural environment and its ecosystem services, is robust and resilient, economically dynamic, just and fair, and socially acceptable and inclusive. It does so without compromising the availability of nutritious and healthy food for people living outside the EU, nor impairing their natural environment

Academic discipline

The study of sustainable food applies systems theory and methods of sustainable design towards food systems. As an interdisciplinary field, the study of sustainable food systems has been growing in the last several decades. University programs focused on sustainable food systems include:

Public policy

European Union

In September 2019, the European Union's Chief Scientific Advisors stated that transitioning to a sustainable food system should be a high priority for the EU: [19]

Although availability of food is not perceived as an immediate, major concern in Europe, the challenge to ensure a long-term, safe, nutritious and affordable supply of food, from both land and the oceans, remains. A portfolio of coordinated strategies is called for to address this challenge.

In January 2020, the EU put the transition to a sustainable food system at the core of the European Green Deal. The European Commission's 'Farm to Fork strategy for a sustainable food system', due to be published in spring 2020, is expected to lay out how European countries will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity, reduce food waste and chemical pesticide use, and contribute to a circular economy. [20]

In April 2020, the EU's Scientific Advice Mechanism delivered to European Commissioners a Scientific Opinion on how to transition to a sustainable food system, informed by an evidence review report undertaken by European academies. [21]

Problems with conventional food systems

Industrial agriculture causes environmental impacts, as well as health problems associated with obesity in the rich world and hunger in the poor world. [22] This has generated a strong movement towards healthy, sustainable eating as a major component of overall ethical consumerism. [23] [24]

Conventional food systems are largely based on the availability of inexpensive fossil fuels, which is necessary for mechanized agriculture, the manufacture or collection of chemical fertilizers, the processing of food products, and the packaging of foods. Food processing began when the number of consumers started growing rapidly. The demand for cheap and efficient calories climbed resulting in nutrition decline. [25] Industrialized agriculture, due to its reliance on economies of scale to reduce production costs, often leads to the compromising of local, regional, or even global ecosystems through fertilizer runoff, nonpoint source pollution, [26] and greenhouse gas emission.

Also, the need to reduce production costs in an increasingly global market can cause production of foods to be moved to areas where economic costs (labor, taxes, etc.) are lower or environmental regulations are more lax, which are usually further from consumer markets. For example, the majority of salmon sold in the United States is raised off the coast of Chile, due in large part to less stringent Chilean standards regarding fish feed and regardless of the fact that salmon are not indigenous in Chilean coastal waters. [27] The globalization of food production can result in the loss of traditional food systems in less developed countries, and have negative impacts on the population health, ecosystems, and cultures in those countries. [28]

Sourcing sustainable food

At the global level the environmental impact of agribusiness is being addressed through sustainable agriculture and organic farming. At the local level there are various movements working towards local food production, more productive use of urban wastelands and domestic gardens including permaculture, urban horticulture, local food, slow food, sustainable gardening, and organic gardening. [29] [30]

Sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. The sustainable seafood movement has gained momentum as more people become aware about both overfishing and environmentally destructive fishing methods.

Local food systems

Food distribution

Food security, nutrition and diet

The environmental effects of different dietary patterns depend on many factors, including the proportion of animal and plant foods consumed and the method of food production. [31] [32] [33] [34] At the same time, current and future food systems need to be provide sufficient nutrition for not only the current population, but future population growth in light of a world effected by changing climate in the face of global warming. [35]

Food waste

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste is responsible for 8 percent of global human-made greenhouse gas emissions. [36] The FAO concludes that nearly 30 percent of all available agricultural land in the world - 1.4 billion hectares - is used for produced but uneaten food. The global blue water footprint of food waste is 250 km3, that is the amount of water that flows annually through the Volga or 3 times Lake Geneva. [37]

Related Research Articles

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Palm oil edible vegetable oil from fruit of oil palms

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, and to a lesser extent from the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa.

Climate change and agriculture Climate changes effects on agriculture

Climate change and agriculture are interrelated processes, both of which take place on a global scale. Global warming affects agriculture in a number of ways, including through changes in average temperatures, rainfall, and climate extremes ; changes in pests and diseases; changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ground-level ozone concentrations; changes in the nutritional quality of some foods; and changes in sea level.

Good agricultural practice (GAP) is a certification system for agriculture, specifying procedures that must be implemented to create food for consumers or further processing that is safe and wholesome, using sustainable methods. While there are numerous competing definitions of what methods constitute good agricultural practice there are several broadly accepted schemes that producers can adhere to.

Food security is a measure of the availability of food and individuals' ability to access it. Affordability is only one factor. There is evidence of food security being a concern many thousands of years ago, with central authorities in ancient China and ancient Egypt being known to release food from storage in times of famine. At the 1974 World Food Conference the term "food security" was defined with an emphasis on supply. They said food security is the "availability at all times of adequate, nourishing, diverse, balanced and moderate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices". Later definitions added demand and access issues to the definition. The final report of the 1996 World Food Summit states that food security "exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."

Local food movement of people who prefer to eat foods which are grown or farmed relatively close to the places of sale and preparation

Local food is food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed, often accompanied by a social structure and supply chain different from the large-scale supermarket system.

In the context of nutrition, a mineral is a chemical element required as an essential nutrient by organisms to perform functions necessary for life. However, the four major structural elements in the human body by weight, are usually not included in lists of major nutrient minerals. These four elements compose about 96% of the weight of the human body, and major minerals (macrominerals) and minor minerals compose the remainder.

CGIAR organization

CGIAR is a global partnership that unites international organizations engaged in research about food security. CGIAR research aims to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve human health and nutrition, and sustainable management of natural resources. It is carried out at 15 centers that collaborate with partners from national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, development organizations, and the private sector. These research centers are around the globe, with most in the Global South and Vavilov Centers of agricultural crop genetic diversity.

Human impact on the environment Impact of human life on Earth

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and human overpopulation causes those problems.

Environmental vegetarianism practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to not contribute to the negative environmental impact of meat production

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to create a sustainable diet that avoids the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2019 special report and as part of the 2017 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.

Bioversity International organization

Bioversity International is a global research-for-development organization that delivers scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain global food and nutrition security, working with partners in low-income countries in different regions where agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation.

Sustainable diets are defined as "those diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutritional security and to healthy lives for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, are nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, and optimize natural and human resources." These diets attempt to address undernourishment, nutrient deficiencies and obesity and covers ecological phenomena such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and land degradation.

Organic food foods produced without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers

Organic food is food produced by methods that comply with the standards of organic farming. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming features practices that cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organizations regulating organic products may restrict the use of certain pesticides and fertilizers in the farming methods used to produce such products. Organic foods typically are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or synthetic food additives.

Sustainability Process of maintaining change in a balanced fashion

Sustainability is the ability of a system to exist constantly at a cost, in a universe that evolves towards thermodynamic equilibrium, the state with maximum entropy. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social, which according to Fritjof Capra is based on the principles of Systems Thinking. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. According to Our Common Future, Sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical.

The term food system is used frequently in discussions about nutrition, food, health, community economic development and agriculture. A food system includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each of these steps. A food system operates within and is influenced by social, political, economic, and environmental contexts. It also requires human resources that provide labor, research and education. Food systems are either conventional or alternative according to their model of food lifespan from origin to plate.

Environmental impact of agriculture agricultures impact on the environment

The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature. Some other factors can include types of machinery used for agriculture purposes as well as the farmer's choice of how they handle their livestock.

Fisheries and climate change

Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are radically altering marine aquatic ecosystems, while freshwater ecosystems are being impacted by changes in water temperature, water flow, and fish habitat loss.Climate change is modifying fish distribution and the productivity of marine and freshwater species. This has impacts on the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, on the livelihoods of the communities that depend on fisheries, and on the ability of the oceans to capture and store carbon. The effect of sea level rise means that coastal fishing communities are significantly impacted by climate change, while changing rainfall patterns and water use impact on inland freshwater fisheries and aquaculture. The full relationship between fisheries and climate change is difficult to explore due to the context of each fishery and the many pathways that climate change affects.

Soil governance refers to the policies, strategies, and the processes of decision-making employed by nation states and local governments regarding the use of soil. Globally, governance of the soil has been limited to an agricultural perspective due to increased food insecurity from the most populated regions on earth. The Global Soil Partnership, GSP, was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its members with the hope to improve governance of the limited soil resources of the planet in order to guarantee healthy and productive soils for a food-secure world, as well as support other essential ecosystem services.

Nature-based solutions Sustainable management and use of nature for tackling socio-environmental challenges

Nature-based solutions (NBS) refers to the sustainable management and use of nature for tackling socio-environmental challenges. The challenges include issues such as climate change, water security, water pollution, food security, human health, and disaster risk management.

The Future 50 Foods report, published in February 2019 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Knorr, identifies 50 plant-based foods "that can boost the nutritional value of our meals whilst reducing the environmental impact of our food supply", and "promote a more sustainable global food system".

References

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Further reading