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Knowledge Centre for Global Food and Nutrition Security

We support the EU global commitment to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition through a dedicated, reinforced science-policy interface and a fostered inter-policy dialogue.

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Publications on "Sustainable Food Systems"

Global Food and Nutrition Security
This section provides a selection of key publications on Sustainable Food Systems. It includes a Knowledge Review done by the EC-Join Research Centre in 2021, based on recent publications.

Science and Innovations for Food Systems Transformation and Summit Actions

Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit - 2021

This report represents the main deliverable of the UNFSS Scientific Group. The Group was responsible to bear the foremost scientific evidence to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit by helping stakeholders and participants to access shared knowledge about experiences, approaches, and tools for driving sustainable food systems.

A Sustainability Compass for policy navigation to sustainable food systems

JRC - 2021

The Food System Sustainability Compass is a metrics framework developed to support decision-makers in assessing food system sustainability. It can generate comprehensive food system insights that enable relevant actions and negotiation involving policymakers from different policy domains.

Knowledge Review: Sustainable Food Systems

JRC - 03/2021

The purpose of this Knowledge Review is to provide to policymakers and practitioners key knowledge about Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) in a concise document. This Knowledge Review is based on seventeen recent reports.

The Knowledge Review consists of selecting, extracting, organizing and articulating the key messages of these reports. This Knowledge Review therefore does not necessarily reflect the position of the JRC and the European Commission. These seventeen reports represent a small part of the literature available on SFS and consequently the knowledge presented here is not exhaustive.

The Knowledge review is organized in four sections:

  1. Food Systems: Definitions
  2. The Challenges in Food Systems: Why do we need more SFS?
  3. Designing SFS policies: a challenging exercise
  4. Opportunities and policy measures to support the transition toward SFS.

How to Transform Food Systems - 7 Calls to Action

Global Alliance for the Future of Food - 2021

This publication lists 7 calls to action to transform food system in the following fields: Inclusive, participatory governance; research for the public good; accounting for the environmental, social, and health impacts of food systems; unlocking investments – both public and private – toward ecologically-beneficial forms of farming, nutritious, sustainable, whole-food diets, and resilient livelihoods and communities. 

Food system impacts on biodiversity loss. Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature

CHATAM – UNEP report 2021

After having recalled that agriculture has been the principal cause of biodiversity loss, the report introduces the so-called ‘cheaper food’ paradigm: The more food produced, the cheaper food becomes, and the more consumed (and wasted).

Low food prices, due to an externalisation of environmental and social costs, has simultaneously encouraged the greater consumption of resource-intensive foods (such as animal products) and of calorie-dense, nutritionally poor foods. The result has been a rapid rise in the incidence of overweight and obesity alongside continued micronutrient deficiency in low-income countries as well as high-income ones.

Three levers to reform food systems and reverse the loss of biodiversity are presented:

  • Shifting to diets based more on plants.

  • Setting aside land for biodiversity;

  • Shift to more nature-friendly production systems.

The report explains that only a simultaneous deployment of the three levers could work and that the dietary change is the critical lever.

Catalysing science-based policy action on sustainable consumption and production: the value-chain approach and its application to food, construction and textiles

UNEP - 2021

The report provides an overview of the food value chain and identifies the key hotspots as well as opportunities to address them.

While the majority of natural resource use and environmental impacts takes place at the primary production stage, primary producers have a limited ability to shape food systems and change their production practices. The middle stages of the food value chain – comprising food companies, retail and food services - are structurally powerful and to a large degree shape both what food farmers produce and sell and what food consumers buy and eat.

Most policy measures address either primary production or individual consumption stages. This leaves a continued gap in measures that address the middle stages of the food value chain. There is an opportunity to build on ongoing initiatives at the food processing, retail and food services – in particular through the sustainable tourism, sustainable procurement and consumer information programmes.

Making Better Policies for Food Systems

OECD - 2020

The growing demand for a more holistic “food systems approach” to policy making is based on the realisation that there are potential synergies and trade-offs between food security and nutrition, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability. However, making better policies for food systems not only requires overcoming disagreements over facts, but also requires dealing with diverging interests and differing values.

This report contributes to making better policies for food systems by focusing on three sets of questions: What has been the actual performance of food systems around the world, and what has been the role of policies? How should policy makers go about designing policies that are coherent across different dimensions such as food security and nutrition, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability? What are common factors complicating the task of achieving better policies, and what can be done about them?

Chapter 1 describes the main expectations and achievements of food systems in terms of the “triple challenge” of food security and nutrition, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability.

Chapter 2 gets to the heart of food systems approaches. It asks how policy makers can design coherent policies when faced with multiple objectives and multiple possible policy instruments where both synergies and trade-offs exist.

Chapter 3 discusses the role of disagreements over facts, diverging interests, and differences over values.

Case studies on the seed sector, the ruminant livestock sector, and the processed food sector provide an in-depth discussion of how these sectors can contribute to addressing the triple challenge, what kinds of synergies and trade-offs exist, and what kinds of policy processes have been used in different countries.

The report concludes that making better policies for food systems not only requires a rigorous understanding of how the world is, but also a shared view of how the world should be. The process thus inevitably involves not only facts, but also interests and values. Robust and inclusive policy processes are needed to balance these diverging interests and to overcome value differences, while avoiding policy capture by special interests.

Food systems everywhere: Improving relevance in practice

The authors of this report assess 32 highly-cited international studies, identifying differences in the frameworks used for food systems analysis. They find out that general attention is given to the three core components of the food system: food production, agri-food supply chains, and the market and institutional food environment. Far less attention is generally devoted to the drivers of food systems change and the determinants of food choice that the composition of diets that people eat.
The authors also analyze the discrepancies in the procedures to identify strategies for food system transformation. They find out that most reports provide scarce insights into the impact pathways for generating food system change and the potential effectiveness of different types of policy interventions. Moreover, most reports hardly engage in further analysis of the interactions between different stakeholders, and thus cannot identify policy incentives for aligning competing interests. Attention is mostly given to incentives for supporting food producers and technological solutions, while the role of consumer choice motives as potential drivers for food systems change is ignored or underestimated.
The authors conclude that nationally endorsed food-based dietary guidelines are urgently required to enable policy makers to design food policies. They also call for in-depth analysis of food systems governance mechanisms.

Transformation of our food systems - the making of a paradigm shift

In a new book, Transformation of our food systems - the making of a paradigm shift, 40 international experts set out the highlights and trends in food production since 2009, when the groundbreaking International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report on global agriculture was published. At that time, its 400 authors raised the alarm with the following message: "Business as usual is not an option". A real paradigm shift for agriculture, nutrition and food systems had emerged. Amongst the key elements of paradigm for food and farming systems was the recognition of planetary boundaries and natural scarcities, including rapid climate change and biodiversity loss as well as the scarcity of time left for addressing these issues.
The new book presents the results of 13 landmark scientific reports published over the past decade, and 15 updates on topics not sufficiently covered in the initial IAASTD report.

For the authors, it has been by and large a lost decade. All planetary boundaries, except the ozone layer, are being stressed harder today than ten years ago. Also, despite progress on the part of some countries, chronic undernourishment and hidden hunger, as well as obesity and other food related diseases have actually increased over the past decade.
 
Many scientists and other experts believe that the present decade will be the last chance to keep global warming and global biodiversity loss at an acceptable level for the survival of humankind. The food and agricultural system has become the single most important factor that can deliver fast and sustained results in relation to these challenges. The complexity of food system and ecosystem approaches is being addressed today by an emerging discipline, or rather trans-discipline, of agricultural, ecological, economic and health knowledge.

The new book calls for a radical transformation of food systems, backed-up by a strong political will, able to address power of imbalances and system lock-ins and, participatory democratic processes. Agroecology, healthy diets, and different trade and marketing systems are seen as the main players in this long-awaited food systems transformation.

"This book clearly proves from various perspectives that the agroecological approach is by far the most important and fundamental pathway to ‘build back better’ and to make the shift towards sustainable food systems", says World Food Prize winner and former co-president of the IAASTD Hans Herren.

Future Food Systems: For people, our planet, and prosperity - Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition

September 2020

After having depicted the reasons why food systems must undergo a process of transition to deliver sustainable and healthy diet (malnutrition, human health, natural resource degradation, and climate change), the report makes concrete recommendations on the practical steps which need to be taken in a process of transition to make fundamental changes to food systems possible:

  • Make sufficient nutrient-rich and staple foods available to all, produced sustainably;

  • Ensure foods move along value chains more efficiently, improving accessibility and resulting in lower cost and less loss;

  • Ensure sustainable, healthy diets are affordable to all, with lower demand for ultra-processed products; and

  • Empower consumers to make more informed food choices, fueling rising demand for sustainable, healthy diets. 

Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030

HLPE report #15 - 2020, Rome

The report reviews current trends, challenges and potential opportunities in food system. It draws potential policy directions to support a radical transformation of food systems to improve food and nutrition Security and achieve the Agenda 2030.

World Bank. Addressing Food Loss and Waste : A Global Problem with Local Solutions

2020

Food Loos and Waste (FLW) is responsible for about 8 percent of global GHGEs.
In this report, the role that FLW could play in reducing the environmental footprint of food systems is investigated, as well as the potential contribution of reduced FLW to key distributional goals — food security, farmers’ incomes and value of trade.
This report looks at the food supply chain to analyze in greater depth what drives FLW, how reducing FLW would reverberate through the food system, and how it would contribute to policy goals of economic efficiency, food security, farmers’ incomes, and trade.
The first insight of the analysis is that the large amount of FLW is probably caused by food prices that are too low.
The second insight is that reducing FLW would indeed help reduce the environmental footprint and GHGEs of food systems, while at the same time improving food security.
The third insight is that the best stage of the supply chain for policy to reduce FLW depends on the specific circumstances of the country. There are five important factors to consider: the cascading effect, whom to hold responsible for GHGEs from FLW, the policy objective, the commodity, and the trade situation of the country.

Then the report explores the policy options to achieve a FLW reduction. Reducing FLW needs to be but one element of a strategy to improve food systems, and should not be pursued in isolation. Similarly, reducing FLW should be part of any strategy to transform food systems to achieve healthier people, a healthier planet, and prosperity, given the many win-wins it can generate.
The report finally proposes key elements for action when developing a country-level FLW strategy.

Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture food systems that enhance food security and and nutrition

HLPE - 2019

Sustainable food systems are needed to ensure appropriate food production and reduce losses and waste, while also safeguarding human and environmental health, political stability and better livelihoods with less environmental consequences. This report and its recommendations aim at presenting decision-makers, in the different “spheres of society”, with evidence on the potential contribution of agroecological and other innovative approaches, practices and technologies to design and implement sustainable food systems that contribute to food and nutrition security.

Sustainable Healthy Diet - Guiding Principles

FAO and WHO - 2019

Considering the detrimental environmental impact of current food systems, and the concerns raised about their sustainability, there is an urgent need to promote diets that are healthy and have low environmental impacts. These diets also need to be socio-culturally acceptable and economically accessible for all.

Acknowledging the existence of diverging views on the concepts of sustainable diets and healthy diets, countries have requested guidance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on what constitutes sustainable healthy diets.

These guiding principles take a holistic approach to diets; they consider international nutrition recommendations; the environmental cost of food production and consumption; and the adaptability to local social, cultural and economic contexts.

Nutrition and food systems. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome

HLPE report #12 - 2017

“First, the report analyses how food systems influence people’s dietary patterns and nutritional status. The conceptual framework proposed by the HLPE identifies three interacting elements of food systems, i.e. food supply chains, food environments and consumer behaviour. It highlights the central role of the food environment (i.e. the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which each consumer engages with the food system) in facilitating healthy and sustainable consumer food choices. Second, the report calls for radical transformations. Within such a perspective, it presents effective policies and programmes that have the potential to shape food systems, contributing to improved FSN. Improved food environments are absolutely needed for the effective realization of the right to adequate food. I would like to highlight here two concrete priorities for action: (i) improve the physical and economic access to healthy and sustainable diets; and (ii) strengthen consumers’ information and education to enable healthier food choices.“

Food from the Oceans - How can more food and biomass be obtained from the oceans in a way that does not deprive future generations of their benefits?

High Level Group of Scientific Advisors - 2017

How can more food and biomass be obtained from the oceans in a way that does not deprive future generations of their benefits? This is the question which is addressed in the report by the Scientific Committee. Sustainable aquaculture (with diversification to lower trophic levels -invertebrates and algae) and "capture" are pointed out as the way to bring about such an increase. However, the Committee stresses that important improvements in the management of capture fisheries are necessary to sustainably increase this vital source of nutrition and livelihood for a significant proportion of the global population. A key recommendation from the Scientific Committee is to integrate aspects of EU fisheries and mariculture policy into a food systems framework and to prioritise the food-generating capacity of the ocean in international policy initiatives such as the UN's Agenda 2030.

Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems

HLPE report #8 - 2014, Rome

“First, the report analyses how food systems influence people’s dietary patterns and nutritional status. The conceptual framework proposed by the HLPE identifies three interacting elements of food systems, i.e. food supply chains, food environments and consumer behaviour. It highlights the central role of the food environment (i.e. the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which each consumer engages with the food system) in facilitating healthy and sustainable consumer food choices. Second, the report calls for radical transformations. Within such a perspective, it presents effective policies and programmes that have the potential to shape food systems, contributing to improved FSN. Improved food environments are absolutely needed for the effective realization of the right to adequate food. I would like to highlight here two concrete priorities for action: (i) improve the physical and economic access to healthy and sustainable diets; and (ii) strengthen consumers’ information and education to enable healthier food choices.”

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