Expert view: Rethinking our food systems for a sustainable future

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors

  • Hunger is one of the biggest challenges we face globally, with up to 811 million people estimated to be undernourished in 2020.1 At the same time half a billion farmers that grow our food live in poverty, we are exceeding planetary boundaries – with the food and agriculture sectors contributing to more than one quarter of all Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and impacting biodiversity and land use.2
  • To help change food systems for the better, for better public health and environmental and equality outcomes, DSM has announced a series of new and quantifiable food systems commitments in three key areas: Health for People, Health for Planet and Healthy Livelihoods. These commitments aim to reach 800 million people with improved nutrition (fortified staples and public health supplements) and to achieve double digit on-farm dairy emission reductions by 2030.
  • DSM’s Director of Sustainability and Nutrition Lead, Jacobine Das Gupta, explains why rethinking how we grow, share and consume our food is vital to achieving these goals and shares her thoughts on practical steps that companies and citizens can take to achieve positive change for people and planet.

World food systems: the time for action is now

Inadequate nutrition can have a major, long-lasting impact on human health and growth. Nutrient deficiencies relate to a wide range of issues, including physical and mental stunting in children, which can limit an individual’s development, as well as the social and economic growth of a country. However, as population levels worldwide continue to rise, combined with unsustainable production processes, unrealistic demands are now being placed on our natural resources to support adequate food production.

To address malnutrition in all forms, and enable sustainable and healthy diets for individuals globally, integrated nutrition strategies are essential. For example, it is important that the world should pay more attention to preventative health and nutrition education, reducing income inequality, protecting farmer livelihoods and promoting economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests eco-systems. For people to flourish now and in the future, we must rebuild our food systems to provide nutrition for all within planetary boundaries as reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Why do we need to change the way we produce and eat our food?

The global food system must operate within boundaries for human health and food production to ensure healthy diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050. However, the way we currently produce and consume our food does not support this. There are three key reasons why we need to rethink the way our food systems work:

  1. Food production is outstripping our planetary boundaries. Currently, we are depleting the Earth’s resources and eating in unsustainable ways. If we continue like this, natural resources, such as healthy soils, fresh air, fresh water, forests and oceans, will not be available to produce the food we need to feed the growing population in years to come. And despite all of this, an estimated 30% of all food produced globally is still lost or goes to waste every year.3 Reducing food loss and waste is therefore critical to creating a zero-hunger world and reaching the 2030 SDGs.
  2. Our diets are contributing to risk of disease. Today, it is estimated that almost two billion adults and 340 million children are obese or overweight.4 Contrary to this, over two billion individuals lack essential micronutrients like vitamin A, iron and iodine.5 The nutrient-poor but calorie-rich diets that many individuals are currently consuming are increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. As well as causing significant burdens for those that are affected, this heightened risk of disease is putting increasing pressure on healthcare systems globally.
  3. Globally half a billion farmers live in extreme poverty. Many people working in food supply chains, including farmers, traders and factory workers, are unable to afford or access healthy food themselves. In developing countries small holder farmers account for 90% of food production and agriculture and employ up to two-third of the population.

How can we change current food systems?  

The global food system is complex, so change will take time, dedication and collaboration to make the necessary improvements. There are however many ways in which key stakeholders in the nutrition industry, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can positively change our food systems. These are interventions can be made at a grass roots level, such as changing consumer behavior and food patterns, but also by food producers: making healthier diets more accessible and affordable, ensuring sustainable food production and reducing food loss and waste.

Developing food products made of ingredients that have been sourced or farmed in a sustainable manner also helps to promote better food systems. In fact, businesses are vital in driving more sustainable supply chains and forging a net-zero future. DSM, for example, has committed to enable a double-digit on-farm reduction of livestock emissions by 2030. By changing the feed that animals eat every day, DSM will enable a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in dairy production, a 30% reduction in ammonia emissions from swine farming, and a 30% reduction in phosphorus emissions from poultry farming.

From a consumer perspective, one can put change into motion by requesting information and purchasing the most sustainable food and nutrition alternatives. As a result, food and beverage companies must demonstrate that they source their products responsibly and increase the transparency of their supply chains to win consumer hearts and minds.

What is the role of fortification?

A healthy, balanced diet, with all necessary nutrients, is not always achievable, particularly in countries with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. Fortified food and staples can offer a safe, easy-to-use and affordable solution that can help to mitigate deficiencies and fill micronutrient gaps in vulnerable populations at risk of, or affected, by deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Already, we are seeing the significance of fortified staples, such as fortified rice and multiple micronutrient powders, many of which are actively encouraged by governments across the globe to support the lives and health of children and citizens.

In fact, as part of our recently announced food system commitments, DSM is committed to helping fill the micronutrient gap of 800 million people by 2030.  Fortified staple foods and health supplements that deliver a proven and cost-effective method of combating malnutrition will be key to achieving this aim; as well as empowering consumers to achieve healthier diets.

How can food and nutrition companies drive progress towards the 2030 UN Sustainability Goals?

Food and nutrition companies have a huge opportunity and responsibility to change the way we grow, source, develop and provide food and beverages to keep people and the planet healthy. They have the innovation and technical expertise needed to combat malnutrition in all forms.

As a science-based, purpose-led and performance-driven company that aims to create a positive societal impact, DSM has the capability and the responsibility to change food systems for the better, aligned with the UN’s SDGs envisaging a future with Zero Hunger and Net Zero Emission Agriculture. Our food system commitments put particular emphasis on Sustainable Development Goals 2, 3, 12 and 13). In order to achieve these goals, DSM counts on continuously bringing new innovations for food nutrition and feed to the market – aiming to support healthier diets, support farmer livelihoods and reduce loss and waste – all while being produced to the highest sustainability standards.

How important is collaboration to achieving success?

Collaboration is key. To deliver the targets by 2030, we must bring together all stakeholders throughout the food and nutrition value chain to rally for food security, nutrition and sustainable and regenerative agriculture. This means that food and nutrition brands, governments, NGOs, as well as farmers, must partner to accelerate the actions required to create food systems that will deliver for all people globally; together, making healthier and sustainable food choices easier.

At DSM we have strong existing relationships with the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, GAIN, World Vision, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sight & Life Foundation and Scaling Up Nutrition, as well as scientists and business partners, working together towards a brighter future for all.

Making a difference, today

As a purpose-led global science-based leader in health, nutrition and bioscience, DSM is committed to achieving a positive societal impact. From protecting good health and providing plant and animal-based proteins, to enabling sustainable farming methods and improving nutrition in vulnerable communities, DSM’s recent food system commitments represent an ambitious step to making the business’ societal impact explicit and measurable to ensure accessible, affordable, healthy nutrition and healthy livelihoods within our planet’s boundaries.

Want to learn more about how DSM is driving progress towards healthier people, healthier livelihoods and a healthier planet?

Published on

13 October 2021

Tags

  • Nutrition Improvement
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Innovation Services
  • Article
  • R&D
  • Procurement
  • Senior Management
  • food fortification

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References

  1. United Nations. Pandemic year marked by spike in world hunger, 2021. https://www.who.int/news/item/12-07-2021-un-report-pandemic-year-marked-by-spike-in-world-hunger
  2. IPCC. Climate change and land, 2021. [report] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/Fullreport.pdf
  3. FAO. Food loss and food waste. http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/
  4. The World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight factsheet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
  5. The World Health Organization. Micronutrient deficiencies. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/

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