Securing the future of the global food supply
The challenge facing the international community and the food industry is to feed the world’s growing population with a nutritious and sustainable food supply. It is estimated that one billion people around the world are hungry, while two billion are obese or overweight. Meanwhile, one-third of all food produced is thrown away.
Further, animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels and is a leading cause of deforestation as well as water and air pollution.
The food industry is now recognising that the current global food system is inequitable and wasteful, and it must initiate meaningful change. If current trends continue, we will exhaust the world’s food resources in the coming decades, which will result in soaring rates of malnutrition.
Modifying our dietary choices, decreasing waste and minimising the environmental impact of food production are key areas that the food industry must prioritise.
The EAT-Lancet report summarised that “transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
Therefore, it is incumbent on the food industry to secure the future of our food supply. The industry can do this in a number of ways such as reformulating products, improving packaging and introducing new and novel foods that positively influence our health and don’t negatively impact the environment. It’s no small feat, but the task is achievable.
Here are some ways in which the industry is already taking significant steps to change its ways.
Product reformulation is the process of changing the recipe or make-up of a food or drink to improve the product’s health and nutritional qualities. Reducing the sugar and salt intake of foods will have lasting public health consequences. In fact, product reformulation can lead to changes in the food supply without requiring changes in consumer behaviour. Voluntary reformulation has been embraced by the food industry, thereby reducing the need for governments to intervene by establishing nutrient limits. In this instance, self-regulation appears to be working for all parties.
COMMITTING TO THE HEALTHY FOOD PARTNERSHIP
The Healthy Food Partnership combines the expertise of government, the public health sector and the food industry to work collaboratively to encourage healthy eating and support food producers to improve the food supply. Initiatives of the Partnership include a commitment to the Health Star Rating, empowering Australians to meet their core food requirements, educating consumers on appropriate portion sizes and improving nutrition literacy in the population. The Partnership is voluntary, however, it is hoped that more food companies will commit to the taskforce’s health objectives.
Plant-based proteins or faux meats offer an alternative to meat-eaters and provide another protein-rich food to those who eschew animal proteins. There is a rise of veganism and vegetarianism and the food industry is doing its part to cater to people following these dietary patterns. In recent years we have seen a variety of faux meats and plant-based seafood, plus vegan ice cream, yoghurt and milk alternatives come onto market. These products are continually being refined to bolster their nutritional content and to maximise taste. It’s exciting to see the industry embrace a more ethical and environmentally friendly food source.
And, of course, health professionals have long lauded the benefits of plant-based protein foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and beans – these should continue to be widely consumed and a focus for the food industry.
The fortification of nutrients allows manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of the food. It’s a winning formula. Take breakfast cereal, for example. Many cereals on the market are fortified with B vitamins including folate and iron. Another common example is the addition of calcium to soy milk, a product that is naturally low in calcium. Nutrient fortification helps consumers to meet their nutrient requirements over the day and can go some way to reversing several common micronutrient deficiencies. This will likely have profound consequences for the developing world.
The food we eat has an effect on land and water systems. Up to 70% of the water taken from our water systems is used for agriculture.
However, there is a way to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Sustainable agriculture allows farmers to produce healthy food without impacting future generations’ capacity to grow nourishing foods. Further, sustainable eating relates to the consumption of foods that are nutritious, but also environmentally friendly. The best way to promote sustainable farming is to eat locally grown food, thereby reducing food miles and your carbon footprint.
SMARTER AND ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PACKAGING
Recent research suggests that smarter packaging and smaller pack sizes could be better for the environment and also help consumers to reduce food waste. Many food brands are investing in better packaging to increase shelf life and make the food look more appealing. The key for the food industry is to invest in new packaging that is durable, leads to a reduction in food waste and minimises its carbon footprint. It’s clear that this initiative is a work in progress.
There are many opportunities for food businesses to improve their products and not only achieve a public health benefit, but also an environmental one. Consumers will be more trusting of a food industry that shows ingenuity in these key areas. Progress is being made, but the industry still has some way to go to meet the targets set out in the EAT-Lancet report. It’s a monumental challenge that will impact future generations.