Challenges and opportunities
As it looks today, the development of the food system is going in several seriously unsustainable directions with major negative effects on both human health and ecosystems.
Human health and environmental effects
After food security – i.e. people's access to sufficient quantities and sufficiently nutritious food - has long increased steadily, the situation has deteriorated in recent years, mainly due to conflicts and climate change.
Two billion people lack food security today. Nearly 700 million people are malnourished due to chronic hunger, and close to 300 million people suffer from acute hunger. Half of the acutely hungry have been added in 2020 due to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, overweight and obesity are increasing in almost every country in the world. Approximately 2 billion people on a global level, and about every second Swede, are overweight or obese.
One third of the world's population is malnourished today - that is, either malnourished or super natured. If we do not succeed in reversing the trend, that figure could double in the next ten years. Malnutrition in all its forms affects both low- and high-income countries. This means that economic growth is not the only solution - other solutions are needed.
Another important link between food and health is antibiotic resistance, which is one of the biggest threats to development, global health and food security today. More than half of the amount of antibiotics used globally today is used in agricultural animal husbandry. Often as a way to increase the growth of healthy animals rather than to cure disease.
About a third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the food system, which is also the largest consumer of fresh water and the main cause of eutrophication and land use change. Food production and consumption also cause large losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services due to severe pressure on marine resources and the use of new land for cultivation and animal husbandry, to name a few examples.
These very large effects that the food system has on the climate and ecosystems risk receding as they can reduce the opportunities to produce food at all, which jeopardises the very basic conditions for human food supply.
An unsustainable waste
One third of all food produced globally is lost in the line between earth and table. This waste means that all the impact and all resource use that has taken place along the entire production chain has been of no use. This result in financial losses in the form of, for example, reduced income and poorer yields in handling and processing. It also means lost calories and nutrition.
The later in the chain food is discarded and the more resources the production has required, the worse. Animal products generally require more resources along the production chain than vegetables. There is a difference between high-income countries and low-income countries in what is wasted. In low-income countries, there is the most loss in the link between agriculture and up to trade. In high-income countries, most of the loss from trade to consumption occurs.
It can also be said that all this waste becomes another driving force for increased production - production of food that is discarded!
The challenges also lie in the opportunities
Achieving sustainable food production and consumption is central to achieving the goals of Agenda 2030. The fact that many of the challenges of achieving sustainable development exist in the food systems also means that this is where many solutions exist.
The food system is of great importance to countries' economies. Many people get their livelihood in the system. One third of the world's people work in agriculture, in many low - income countries as many as 60 percent.
The food system plays a major role for us humans in terms of health, culture and social context. Access to food is also important for peace and stability - we were reminded of this when the UN World Food Program was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
In order for the global food system to be sustainable and provide food and good nutrition to everyone, it needs to be transformed. It requires major societal changes and a major shift in production and consumption - locally, regionally, nationally and globally.