Expert view: rethinking our food systems for a sustainable future
Talking Nutrition Editors
- Malnutrition is one of the biggest challenges we face globally, with the number of people suffering from hunger reaching 821 million worldwide and over 2 billion people overweight or obese.1 At the same time humanity is exceeding planetary boundaries, with the food and agriculture sectors contributing at least 23% of the total global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and impacting biodiversity and land use.2
- To address malnutrition of all forms while protecting our planet, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an urgent call for action to form a global partnership and transform food systems to achieve zero hunger by 2030.
- As we enter a new decade, DSM’s Director of Sustainability and Nutrition Lead, Jacobine Das Gupta, addresses decision makers in the food industry and explains why rethinking how we grow, share and consume our food is vital to achieving these goals. In this interview she shares her thoughts on practical steps that can be taken to achieve positive change for people and planet.
World food systems: the time for action is now
With increasing awareness of maternal nutrition, there is rising demand for nutritional solutions among both expectant and new mothers. Research into pre- and postnatal nutrition is helping early life nutrition product manufacturers create solutions to optimize the health of mother and child. The first 1,000 days of life offers a window of 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, increasing and 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 strategies are essential. For example, it is important that we support health and education, reduce inequality, protect farmer livelihoods and promote economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests eco-systems. This means that sustaining healthy lives for all means better nutrition for all within
planetary boundaries as advocated by the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Here, DSM’s Director of Sustainability and Lead Nutrition, Jacobine Das Gupta, discusses what needs to be done to achieve the 2030 SDGs, to keep all people and the planet healthy, and why everyone has a responsibility to do their bit.
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 and there are three key reasons why we need to rethink the way our food systems work:
- 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.
- 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.3 Contrary to this, over two billion individuals lack essential micronutrients like vitamin A, iron and iodine.4 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.
- One third of all produced food is lost or wasted. Despite failing to eradicate world hunger, an estimated 30% of all food produced globally is still lost or goes to waste every year.5 Reducing food loss and waste is therefore critical to creating a zero-hunger world and reaching the 2030 SDGs.
How can we change current food systems?
The global food system is complex, so change will take time and require 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 to be made at a grass roots level, e.g. changing consumer behavior and food patterns, making healthier diets more accessible and affordable, sustainable food production and reducing food loss and waste.
Developing food products where ingredients have been sustainably sourced or farmed may also help to promote better food systems. From a consumer perspective, sustainable and local sourcing has become key to building trust and as a result, food and beverage companies are increasingly needing to demonstrate that they source their products responsibly and increase the transparency of their supply chains to win consumer hearts and minds.
Is there a role for fortification?
Definitely. A healthy, balanced diet is not always achievable, particularly in countries with limited access to affordable, nutritious foods. Fortification 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 malnutrition. Already, we are seeing the significance of fortified staples, such as fortified rice and multiple micronutrient powders in supporting brighter futures and improving the lives of children worldwide.
What can the nutrition industry do to help achieve the 2030 UN Sustainability Goals?
Nutrition brands are central to growing, sourcing, developing and delivering the food and beverage solutions to keep people and the planet healthy, as well as providing the innovation and technical expertise needed to combat malnutrition. As a science-based, purpose-led and performance-driven company that aims to create a positive societal impact, DSM supports the UN’s SDGs and visions for a zero-hunger future, by working closely with partners across the value chain, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and HarvestPlus. It puts a particular emphasis on improving Nutrition & Health (SDG 2 and 3), Resources & Circularity (SDG 12) and Climate & Energy (SDG 7 and 13). Vital to achieving these goals is the food nutrition and feed solutions DSM provides, which support healthier diets and help to reduce food loss and waste, while being produced at the highest sustainable standards.
Do we need to control food pricing?
Today, we see that foods with limited nutritional value are often cheaper than healthier food options on the market. For this reason, it is important that the food industry takes responsibility in making healthy, nutritious and tasty foods, with less sugar, salt and saturated content, more accessible and affordable to populations worldwide. However, those across the supply chain also have a responsibility to educate consumers on why nutrition is important.
On the other hand, the environmental impact of foods often remains unnoticed. Individuals cannot check, for instance, if a food product has a small or large environmental footprint just from looking at the packet or price. One way to overcome this is by adding a ‘price on carbon’, meaning the costs of compensating for GHG emission reductions is associated with the product, an approach that DSM strongly advocates. Putting a price on carbon would drive multiple industries to find better solutions by encouraging suppliers and countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions. Hopefully, this would lead to lower price tags in the future for consumers looking to buy nutritious foods that doesn’t compromise the safeguarding natural resources and precious ecosystems.
How important is collaboration to achieving success?
Collaboration is key. To deliver the targets by 2030, we must bring together all stakeholders throughout the supply chain to communicate the importance of food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture. This means that nutrition brands, governments, NGOs, as well as farmers, must partner to encourage, engage and accelerate the actions required to create food systems that will deliver for all people globally; together, making healthier and sustainable food choices easier.
DSM builds on strong existing relationships with the WFP, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, UNICEF, GAIN, as well as scientists and business partners, working together towards a brighter future for all.
What about consumers – can they help in any way?
Absolutely – we are all responsible! I am, you are, we all are. As a citizen, we have the purchasing power to choose healthier and more sustainably sourced products. Already, consumers are becoming more curious about the origins of food they are buying, its nutritional content as well as its environmental footprint. Furthermore, we can advocate change and influence climate action, biodiversity protection and better animal welfare through politics. As a friend or parent, we can also influence the meals we cook or help to educate those around us. Even as an employee, you can help to shape your company’s policies for the better.
Making a difference, today
As a purpose-led organization, DSM is committed to achieving positive change through more sustainable ways of working. From protecting good health and providing plant and animal-based proteins, to enabling sustainable farming methods and improving nutrition in vulnerable communities, DSM is helping to make people and the planet healthier.
With the global population due to hit almost 10 billion by 2050, the importance of providing sustainable products with a high nutritional value will only continue to grow. We work alongside our customers to develop sustainable products that will have a positive impact on the health of this growing population, as well as a limited impact on the environment.
By going above and beyond legal regulations, DSM is helping customers to achieve their sustainability goals and raise industry standards for the benefit of consumers, employees and the environment.
Want to learn more about how DSM is working to achieve zero hunger sustainably by 2030? Learn more here: www.dsm.com/corporate/sustainability.html
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 United Nations. Shaping our future together. https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/food/index.html
 IPCC. Climate change and land. [report] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/Fullreport.pdf
 The World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight factsheet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
 The World Health Organization. Micronutrient deficiencies. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/
 FAO. Food los and food waste. http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/
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