Large-scale dietary shifts over the past 70 years reveal combined scientific, technological, political and cultural innovations drive transformations in food systems.
15 April 2021, Penang, MALAYSIA – New research has found coordinated, cross-sector policies, investments, and innovations are key to large-scale shifts in food production and consumption, and will be essential to meet the global call to transform food systems toward diets that are healthy for both people and planet.
Published in Nature Food, the study analyzed the drivers that led to large national dietary shifts toward milk, farmed Tilapia, and chicken over the past 70 years and identified pathways in the food system that led to transformation. Results suggest rapid uptake of new foods at large scales is possible with combined public policy leadership and private-sector technological innovation alongside consumers who culturally value and can afford new foods.
Current global food production and consumption puts excessive pressure on natural systems and environmental sustainability, while many populations find access to healthy foods difficult and prohibitively expensive. To transform food systems toward nutritious, low-carbon, sustainable diets for all, the researchers call for a systems approach to promote interrelated and interdependent actions that lead shifts in the way food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed.
The study’s lead author Dr. Emily Moberg, who is Research Lead Specialist of Markets Institute at World Wildlife Fund, said: “Dramatic shifts in diet have taken place, but they took decades and the alignment of technological development, public policy and funding, and marketing and advertising pressure, and these all interacted with existing food culture. This means we need to be pro-active and coordinated if we want to effect change for contemporary diets at speed and scale.”
Co-lead author Dr. Eddie Allison who is WorldFish Science and Research Interim Director, Aquatic Food Systems, said: “The 2021 Food Systems Summit is a gathering of people influential in shaping the global food system. It represents a critical moment to take decisive steps towards a sustainable, fair, and healthy food system. Aligning policies, research and innovation and investments to support the production and consumption of safe, nutritious foods that are accessible to all and that can be produced, packaged and distributed with minimal cost to the environment is imperative. This combined action is necessary for the scale and pace of transformation required to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eliminating global hunger, meeting carbon emissions targets and halting and reversing the degradation of land and water ecosystems.”
“The current, modern global food system can be mobilized to deliver healthier, more sustainable diets, but only if there are strong public sector policies to ensure that private sector innovation in production, distribution, and marketing of food align with delivering these global public goods that are essential if we are to meet the SDGs. In the recent past, major food companies have innovated towards cheaper, less healthy foods, with little consideration for environmental costs of production, packaging, and retail. The incentive mechanisms to direct their innovation towards meeting SDGs need to be identified and put into action.”
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