Knowledge for better food systems

Unravelling the food-health nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems

This report, authored by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, shows how food systems affect health through multiple, interconnected pathways, generating severe human and economic costs – and points to levers that can help to address the critical health issues and compounding factors that contribute to poor health, such as climate change, poverty and inequality, and unsanitary conditions.

The report seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of these issues, identifying the channels through which food systems affect human health, and how prevailing power relations and imperatives in food systems help to shape our understanding of the impacts they generate. The report asks why evidence gaps persist, why negative impacts are systematically reproduced, and why certain problems are not politically prioritized.

The authors argue that the case for reforming food and farming systems can be made on the grounds of protecting human health. The report emphasizes the need to explore the social, structural, and environmental determinants of health associated with food systems, and identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems:

  • Promoting food systems thinking;
  • Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good;
  • Bringing the alternatives to light;
  • Adopting the precautionary principle; and,
  • Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

You can find the report here.

On Tuesday 12 December 2017 the Global Alliance for the Future of Food will hold a webinar featuring lead author Cécilia Rocha, who will share highlights of the report. Three respondents will comment on the findings and recommendations and their implications, followed by a short Q&A. The discussion will focus on what action we can take collectively to accelerate a shift from a food system that often results in harm to a system based on health promotion and protection. You can register for the webinar here (as soon as possible, as they have limited spaces left).

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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