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.
“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.”
“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.”