IPES Food – 5 Practical Solutions For a Sick Food System

In its new report, IPES Food Present Five Practical Solutions For a Sick Food System. How we think about it; who’s involved; how it functions and the role of both alternative food provisioning and science all play a part in fixing a broken food system. 

photo by Sandeep Achetan “Train journey from Srinagar to Anantnag, Kashmir, India” CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways, and are generating staggering human and economic costs.” Moreover power imbalances in how the food system operates are stark, compounding its failures.  However there are solutions. These include fostering integrated approaches to understanding food systems, encouraging participation and the proliferation of alternatives,  adopting the precautionary principle, and reasserting the role of science and research for the public good.

“Industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways, and are generating staggering human and economic costs.”

It is also the case that  “the visibility of food systems impacts tends to reflect the power and visibility of those affected, meaning that impacts such as food insecurity are systematically underestimated. Furthermore, these health risks are locked into the very fabric of food systems, and are effectively the price to pay for the pool of low-cost commodity production underpinning them.”

That’s according to The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems –   IPES food. IPES Food are presenting  a major new report at the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) today. 

Read the report  Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy and power relations to build healthier food systems.

“Food systems affect health through multiple, interconnected pathways, generating severe human and economic costs”, the report emphasises. 

In particular the lack of integrated thinking and application is spotlighted in the document:

“Too often the negative health impacts are disconnected 1) from one another, 2) from the food systems practices that systematically generate health risks, and 3)
from the underlying environmental and socio-economic conditions for health — conditions that are, in turn, undermined by food systems activities.”

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the mounting human impacts of food systems on human health. It reviews the evidence on five key channels of impact: occupational hazards to food and farmworkers; environmental contamination; contaminated, unsafe and altered foods; unhealthy dietary patterns and food insecurity. 

This 120 page report asks how food systems affect health, and asks why evidence gaps persist, why negative impacts are systematically reproduced, and why certain problems are not politically prioritized.

Commissioned from IPES-Food by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, it find that “profound changes in global food systems over the last decades have resulted in significant negative impacts on health and well-being that range from food insecurity to chronic disease, and from environmental degradation to diminished economic opportunity and the erosion of culture.”

Specifically, it analyzes how and why food systems are making people sick; exposes the health costs externalized by the food system; aims to understand how to internalize these costs through healthier food systems practices and explore potential levers for change.

Five levers to support rebuilding food systems on new and healthier foundations are identified:
1. Promoting food systems thinking
2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good
3. Bringing the alternatives to light
4. Adopting the precautionary principle
5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

From the report

Food systems thinking must be promoted
“Food systems thinking must be promoted at all levels, i.e., we must systematically bring to light the multiple connections between different health impacts, between human health and ecosystem health, between food, health, poverty, and climate change, and between social and environmental sustainability. Only when health risks are viewed in their entirety, across the food system and on a global scale, can we adequately assess the priorities, risks, and trade-ofs underpinning our food systems”

Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.

“Research priorities, structures, and capacities need to be fundamentally realigned with principles of public interest and public good, and the nature of the challenges we face (i.e., cross-cutting sustainability challenges and systemic risks).”

Bringing the alternatives to light
“We need to know more about the positive health impacts and positive externalities of alternative food and farming systems (e.g., agroecological crop and livestock management approaches that build soil nutrients, sequester carbon in the soil, or
restore ecosystem functions such as pollination and water purification). It is crucial to document and communicate the potential of alternative systems to: reconcile productivity gains, environmental resilience, social equity, and health benefits; strengthen yields on the basis of rehabilitating ecosystems (not at their expense); build nutrition on the basis of access to diverse foods; and, redistribute power and reduce inequalities in the process.”

Adopting the precautionary principle
“The negative health impacts identified in the report are interconnected, self-reinforcing, and systemic in nature. However, this complexity cannot be an excuse for inaction. Disease prevention must increasingly be understood in terms of identifying specific risk factors (not the cause) by the accumulation of evidence from many different studies, from many different disciplines, as well as in terms of the collective strength, consistency, plausibility, and coherence of the evidence base. In this light, there is a clear need to call upon the precautionary principle — developed to manage these complexities and requiring policymakers to weigh the collective
evidence on risk factors and act accordingly — to protect public health.”

Building integrated food policies under participatory governance
“Policy processes must be up to the task of managing the complexity of food systems and the systemic health risks they generate. Integrated food policies and food strategies are required to overcome the traditional biases in sectoral policies (e.g., export orientation in agricultural policy) and to align various
policies with the objective of delivering environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable food systems. Integrated food policies allow trade-ofs to be weighed up, while providing a forum for longterm systemic objectives to be set (e.g., reducing the chemical load in food and farming systems; devising strategies for tackling emerging risks such as antimicrobial resistance). These processes must be participatory.”

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About Oliver Moore 216 Articles

Dr. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC.

A propos d'Oliver Moore
Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activité professionnelle. Il peut néanmoins admirer par la fenêtre de son bureau les mésanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchés au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cœur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisés, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant à la communauté. Les jours où il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux. 

Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant également des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »). 

Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne également des cours sur le Master en coopératives, agroalimentaire et développement durable à l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large.

Il consacre la majorité de son temps de travail à l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date à laquelle l’Irlande a assuré la présidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est là qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce à sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommé rédacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des médias sociaux, aide à définir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois même rédige un article pour le site web. 

À l’époque où on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, où il a aidé des ONG irlandaises de commerce équitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – à raconter leur histoire.

Il se peut que ces jours-là reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de préférer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilités de bénévolat dans la communauté dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.