US report has implications for food sector worldwide
A new report has placed urgency on the US government to reshape the country’s broken food system, but its findings are equally relevant on a global basis.
Compiled from research into government statistics, scientific literature and expert insights, the Rockefeller Foundation has drawn attention to huge room for improvement in how US food operates, with the current system indicted for negative impact on human and planetary health.
The report entitled, True Cost of Food: Measuring what matters to transform the US food system advocates a deeply ethical response, in terms of environmental, social and governance activities that need to be brought into play to tackle the hidden health and financial costs of food.
Accounting for health and climate costs
The authors found that the US food system costs three times as much as the food itself and needs to be reconfigured to be more ‘equitable, resilient and nourishing’, as the world emerges from the pandemic.
When rising health costs, climate change and biodiversity loss is factored in, the report concludes that the cost is three times the official $1.1 trillion the country spends on food per year.
Drawing conclusions from 14 separate areas of focus including health, environment, biodiversity, and livelihoods, it asserts that the costs associated with the present food system to be much higher due to externalised costs incurred by the public sector, businesses and producers, consumers and future generations.
Drilling down into the production, processing, distribution, retail and consumption stages of the food system, they evaluated what it would cost to restore people’s health, wealth or environment back to an undamaged state, as well as the cost of preventing a recurrence of problems.
Updating priorities to tackle dietary diseases
From a human health perspective, it measures a large and varied spectrum such as the share of direct medical costs attributable to diet and food, as well as the productivity loss associated with those health problems. They estimate, of the more than $1 trillion per year in health-related costs paid by Americans, $604 billion is attributable to diet-related diseases.
Environmentally, they found the unaccounted costs of the food system on the environment and biodiversity add up to almost $900 billion per year, when such as greenhouse gas emissions, water depletion and soil erosion are factored in for a fuller picture.
Proponents for change have pointed out that the US system is no longer fit for purpose as it is based on the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, during an era when calories were a priority, and obesity and diet-related disease didn’t figure in the vision. Hypertension, cancer and diabetes are now significant problems posed by how the food system currently works.
The report could have influence in the drive towards healthier food and the regulation required to reinforce a more positive version of the food system, not just in the US but worldwide. For food and agribusiness stakeholders, there will be interest in how the system evolves and what governments will do, in terms of supporting the transition to a new, more regenerative, sustainable, ethical and ultimately, less costly food system.
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