Knowledge for better food systems

Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

The latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society features a number of articles related to food, nutrition, and sustainability (including one by the FCRN’s founder, Tara Garnett).

Listed below are a few of the articles and authors:

  • Nutrition and sustainability: an emerging food policy discourse” by Tim Lang and David Barling

Abstract
It is well known that food has a considerable environmental impact. Less attention has been given to mapping and analysing the emergence of policy responses. This paper contributes to that process. It summarises emerging policy development on nutrition and sustainability, and explores difficulties in their integration. The paper describes some policy thinking at national, European and international levels of governance. It points to the existence of particular policy hotspots such as meat and dairy, sustainable diets and waste. Understanding the environmental impact of food systems challenges nutrition science to draw upon traditions of thinking which have recently been fragmented. These perspectives (life sciences, social and environmental) are all required if policy engagement and clarification is to occur. Sustainability issues offer opportunities for nutrition science and scientists to play a more central role in the policy analysis of future food systems. The task of revising current nutrition policy advice to become sustainable diet advice needs to begin at national and international levels.

  • Is a healthy diet an environmentally sustainable diet?” by Jennie I. Macdiarmid

Abstract
The concept of a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet is not new, but with increasing concern about future global food security and climate change there is a renewed interest in this topic. Dietary intakes in UK accounts for approximately 20–30% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), with the greatest contributions coming from high intakes of meat and dairy products. Dietary proposals to help mitigate climate change (i.e. reduce GHGE) have focused on reducing consumption of meat and dairy products, but this must be considered in the context of the whole diet, alongside any possible nutritional consequences for health. Bringing together health and environmental impact of the diet raises the question of whether a healthy diet can also be an environmentally sustainable diet. While recent research showed that it is possible to achieve a realistic diet that meets dietary requirement for health and has lower GHGE, it cannot be assumed that a healthy diet will always have lower GHGE. With different combinations of food it is possible to consume a diet that meets dietary requirements for health, but has high GHGE. It is important to understand what constitutes a sustainable diet, but this then needs to be communicated effectively to try and change well-established dietary intakes of the population. Studies show that understanding of sustainable diets is poor and there are many misconceptions (e.g. the overestimation of the protein requirements for a healthy diet), which could contribute to the barriers towards changing dietary intakes.

  • Climate change and sustainable food production” by Pete Smith and Peter J. Gregory

Abstract
One of the greatest challenges we face in the twenty-first century is to sustainably feed nine to ten billion people by 2050 while at the same time reducing environmental impact (e.g. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, biodiversity loss, land use change and loss of ecosystem services). To this end, food security must be delivered. According to the United Nations definition, ‘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’. At the same time as delivering food security, we must also reduce the environmental impact of food production. Future climate change will make an impact upon food production. On the other hand, agriculture contributes up to about 30% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that drive climate change. The aim of this review is to outline some of the likely impacts of climate change on agriculture, the mitigation measures available within agriculture to reduce GHG emissions and outlines the very significant challenge of feeding nine to ten billion people sustainably under a future climate, with reduced emissions of GHG. Each challenge is in itself enormous, requiring solutions that co-deliver on all aspects. We conclude that the status quo is not an option, and tinkering with the current production systems is unlikely to deliver the food and ecosystems services we need in the future; radical changes in production and consumption are likely to be required over the coming decades.

 

  • Food sustainability: problems, perspectives and solutions” by Tara Garnett

Abstract
The global food system makes a significant contribution to climate changing greenhouse gas emissions with all stages in the supply chain, from agricultural production through processing, distribution, retailing, home food preparation and waste, playing a part. It also gives rise to other major environmental impacts, including biodiversity loss and water extraction and pollution. Policy makers are increasingly aware of the need to address these concerns, but at the same time they are faced with a growing burden of food security and nutrition-related problems, and tasked with ensuring that there is enough food to meet the needs of a growing global population. In short, more people need to be fed better, with less environmental impact. How might this be achieved? Broadly, three main ‘takes’ or perspectives, on the issues and their interactions, appear to be emerging. Depending on one's view point, the problem can be conceptualised as a production challenge, in which case there is a need to change how food is produced by improving the unit efficiency of food production; a consumption challenge, which requires changes to the dietary drivers that determine food production; or a socio-economic challenge, which requires changes in how the food system is governed. This paper considers these perspectives in turn, their implications for nutrition and climate change, and their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, an argument is made for a reorientation of policy thinking which uses the insights provided by all three perspectives, rather than, as is the situation today, privileging one over the other.

To access the issue, click here.
 

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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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