The global food system will change radically over the next few decades. Its goal is to deliver more and healthier food while contributing to the revitalisation of the ecosystem. Quite simply, the issues are healthy food and healthy planet. New Zealand, as a leading innovator of agricultural systems, has some critical roles to play at home and abroad.
Read on below where Rod writes about how to radically reinvent the global food system to ensure we have healthy people and more importantly, a healthy planet.
Rod Oram points to research showing the five biggest global dairy and meat processors, including Fonterra, have the same greenhouse gas footprint as ExxonMobil. He argues the global food industry needs to transform radically
Food is the biggest killer of people in both developed and developing countries. While good food keeps people alive, malnutrition from inadequate food, harmful foods and the ailments they cause such as obesity account for 27 percent of the burden of disease globally, and 18 percent in New Zealand.
And food production is the biggest cause of climate change. Land use patterns, fertiliser use and emissions from soil-tilling, rice paddies and ruminant animals generate more greenhouse gases than those from fossil fuels used for electricity generation and transport.
The two exacerbate each other. Some current industrial food production practices such as clearing of rainforests and farming of ruminant animals are contributing to climate change. But climate change is already threatening the volume and quality of some food production. Meanwhile the human population is predicted to increase by one-third by 2050 to 10 billion people, requiring much more food.
So, how can we radically reinvent the global food system to ensure we have healthy people and a healthy planet?
We’ll get our first guide in November with the report from the EAT-Lancet Commission On Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems. It is a joint effort of Lancet, the British medical journal, and EAT Foundation, a Scandinavian NGO.
Our biggest and hardest choice
Hopefully, the report will help us as a nation make the big, far-reaching decisions we need to over the next few years on how we’ll make our economy low-emissions, high value and more sophisticated. By far our hardest choices are in agriculture, our largest source of emissions.
EAT was founded five years ago by Gunhild Stordalen (a Norwegian doctor), Stockholm University’s Resilience Centre (one of the world’s leading authorities on deep sustainability) and the UK’s Wellcome Trust (the largest philanthropic funder of health research in the world).
Its goal is to help the massive transformation required in diets and production. It is strongly supported by business through the likes of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Economic Forum and dozens of multinational food companies.
EAT’s annual Stockholm Food Forum in June brought together some 600 delegates from the science, health, NGO, government and other sectors, with one-third overall from businesses such as Danone, Nestlé, Kellogg, Cargill (the world’s second largest meat processor) and Unilever.
At the opening of the conference, the health and ecosystems contexts were set by Dr Sania Nishtar, a Pakistani cardiologist who co-chairs the World Health Organisation’s Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases, and Professor Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
“Pandemic influenzas, cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and certain chronic lung and other illnesses caused by unhealthy diets are threatening to wipe out the development gains of the past century,” Nishtar said. “And the risk threats can all be traced back to the food we eat and to food systems.”
Likewise, on climate change, “we will fail on the Paris commitments without transformation to sustainable, healthy food,” Rockström said. Just as disruptive, transformation innovation pathways are needed across all aspects of our lives to reach a fossil fuel free world by 2050, so too does food need disruptive change.
But if we act, “we can feed humanity within planetary boundaries” and tackle climate change thanks to “the synergies between sustainable food systems, carbon sequestration and achieving healthy diets.”
The challenges are daunting, though. The biggest is the heavy use of nitrates and phosphorous in artificial fertilisers. They constitute the largest current breach of the nine environmental processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth’s natural systems, the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s research shows, although climate change itself will soon be the biggest overshoot of these nine planetary boundaries.