The linear relationship between food and healing has long been the sole consideration for regulatory bodies. However, we are now faced with a multitude of compounding social and environmental problems. As an industry, we have a unique opportunity to recognise the systemic nature of our food system, and play our part in tackling issues including climate change, the rise of non-communicable diseases and food insecurity. Ultimately, we can make a positive contribution to the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to our broader social and environmental wellbeing.
The complexities of a sustainable food system
The journey from field to fork is only part of the story. There are environmental, social and economic inputs, benefits and impacts at every stage of the food system. We need food to support life itself, but the wider food and agricultural industry provides a source of income for what is estimated to be one third of the global population. Yet to grow the food we need to survive, and generate income, we need the right environmental conditions. This means healthy soil, enough water and sunlight and more broadly a healthy ecosystem to support ecosystem services such as pollination, pests control and the maintenance of soil quality, which we often take for granted.
The current picture
Our food system is currently out of balance; roughly 800 million people will go to bed hungry this evening, whilst one third of the food produced will be wasted. In the UK alone, undernourishment is estimated to affect over 3 million people (1.97 percent), however it is not just those who are not eating enough who are cause for concern, with 36 percent of UK adults considered overweight. Avoidable risks associated with our food system are on the rise, so much so that poor diets are considered the leading cause of death worldwide, giving rise to global health crises.
Our food system is severely impacted by the negative effects of climate change, yet current farming practices are exacerbating this, as arguably the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is responsible for 14-24 percent of total global emissions; there is no doubt these emissions are contributing to climate change, which in turn presents huge challenges such as changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events which can result in lower yields and nutritional value. These pressures are likely to be amplified by the increased demand for land, water and energy caused by a growing global population, set to reach 9.8 billion by 2050.
Available agricultural land is unevenly distributed amongst regions and countries, as is population density, with vast differences in the amount of available arable land per person. The UK ranked 128th in the world in 2011, with 0.0966 hectares of arable land per capita. To date, traditional models of capitalism, international trade and advancements in logistics have enabled the distribution of foods. However, our increasingly long and complex global supply chains make us more susceptible to interruption by shock weather events, political upheaval or economic instability.
The Sustainable Development Goals were launched in September 2015 with the aim of rallying businesses, governments, NGOs and individuals to tackle a specific set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and achieve prosperity for all. Each goal has a specific target and associated indicators to be met by 2030. 12 of these 17 goals contain indicators that directly relate to nutrition and food security.
On launching the Sustainable Development Goals, Ban Ki-moon stressed the ‘crucial role of business’ in achieving the goals and called for the Sustainable Development Goals to be aligned with sustainable business objectives. We as a business and indeed as a global society are being asked tackle a multitude of systemic challenges. At apetito, we are challenging ourselves to understand our role in this and what more we can do both with our suppliers and our customers.
Now more than ever is the time to challenge ourselves to go beyond compliance and traditional food standards. By working together as an industry, we can address the interrelated and interdependent challenges facing both the food system and society more broadly and seek to make a difference where we are able.