23 Jun 2020

Good Food for All: Making fairer food systems a reality

Dr Gunhild A. Stordalen and Paul Newnham Founder and Executive Chair of EAT, and Executive Director of SDG2 Advocacy Hub

Covid-19 has exposed flaws in the food system, which is failing on its main goal – feeding people. Yet solutions exist to transform food systems. In this blog, the directors of EAT and SDG2 Advocacy Hub propose three key actions to build food systems that ensure good food for all.

“The fact that most people simply cannot access or afford a healthy, sustainable diet means that the food system is failing on its main purpose: feeding people. It’s also failing to protect the planet,” said Gunhild A. Stordalen, Founder and Executive Chair of the EAT Foundation, during the 2020 Global Nutrition Report: Good Food for All webinar.

But, as UN Secretary-General, António Guterres recently pointed out, there is “more than enough food in the world to feed our population”. In this blog, we set out the actions, identified by a wide range of actors in the Good Food for All webinar, that will build more equitable food systems that deliver food that is good for people and the planet.

Current food systems are failing

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report presents a timely reminder of local and global progress to tackle malnutrition. The data and analysis presented in the report is especially relevant as Covid-19 exposes the challenges and inequities in our food systems.

It is no surprise then that the 2020 report finds that progress on malnutrition is not only too slow, it is also deeply unfair. Of the 106 countries with available data, only eight are on course to meet four of the ten 2025 global nutrition targets. Four is the greatest number of nutrition targets any country is on course to meet.

Access to healthy, affordable food, as well as quality nutrition care, are dictated by inequities that create either opportunities or barriers to good nutrition. The report finds that poor diets are not simply a matter of personal choices but result from these inequities in our food systems. “Unless food systems change, we cannot expect people to have better diets,” said Venkatesh Mannar, Co-chair of the GNR’s Independent Expert Group during the event.

Actions needed to ensure food systems ensure good food for all

It is possible to feed everyone in the world enough healthy food without destroying the planet along the way. The current failure of food systems is first and foremost a policy failure. The 2020 report recommendations call for policy reform and rethinking agricultural subsidies.

Key recommendations:

Shift agriculture priorities. The report calls for a shift in focus from a high volume of a limited number of crops (such as rice, maize and wheat) to producing a diversity of healthy foods (such as nuts, legumes and pulses) that deliver positive outcomes for nutrition, health, the environment and livelihoods.

Rethink agriculture subsidies. Of the US$700 billion a year given as farm subsidies, a shockingly small amount is invested in health or environmental outcomes. Today’s agriculture subsidies do not contribute to what should be agriculture’s main purpose: to make healthy, nutritious food affordable and available for all. The Food and Land User Growing Better report finds that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. Currently, we are subsidising food at the expense of people and the planet. By shifting to sustainable, regenerative food systems, we can lower the price of healthy food, making it more affordable and available for us all. And we can do that while creating jobs and improving livelihood in rural areas.

Recognise the true cost of food. There is growing recognition of the cost of food production on carbon emissions, but not yet enough about the total cost of food, across health, environment, and socioeconomic dimensions. The 2020 GNR details the impact of different foods groups on the environment in 2010 and shows a projection of how that impact might increase by 2050.

Impact of different food groups on the environment

Source: Springmann et al., 2018.

Building on this, the Food System Economics Commission (led by EAT, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Food and Land Use Coalition) will shine a light on the cost of action versus inaction. It will look at the cost savings and business opportunities of transitioning to healthy, sustainable, and just food systems, as well as assessing the political economy and key economic enablers to further the transformation. Its first peer reviewed report will be published prior to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit. We need to move forward guided by evidence and act with urgency – this will ensure science-driven policy changes and cross-sector and cross-border collaborations provide leadership and build the systems we need.

The GNR is a powerful tool to promote and deepen cross-sectoral action. With less than 10 years to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has called for a Decade of Action to accelerate progress and drive action. The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit is a key opportunity to accelerate action on food systems. But we cannot wait for that. We all need to come together now to challenge what we eat, what we grow and how we produce, process, market and distribute our foods. As farmers, chefs, scientists, policy makers and individual consumers, we all have a role to play in delivering good food for all.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not represent the official position of the Global Nutrition Report or associated individuals, institutions and organisations, unless explicitly stated.

Image credit: World Bank / Sambrian Mbaabu

Related blog posts

21 May 2020

Nutrition and COVID-19: Malnutrition is a threat-multiplier

Dr Renata Micha Chair of the Global Nutrition Report's Independent Expert Group and Associate Professor in Human Nutrition at the University of Thessaly, Greece

21 Jan 2020

Has the revolution arrived? Why 2020 is a crucial year for nutrition data

Rebecca Heidkamp and Tricia Aung Principal Investigator and Research Associate at Data for Decisions to Expand Nutrition Transformation (DataDENT)

17 Dec 2019

Tackling the global obesity epidemic: Fiscal policies and the secret to a successful sugar tax

Danielle Edge Policy and Public Affairs Manager at World Cancer Research Fund International