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Food and society

Eat Better, Eat Less, Food for All: Food, a common and global good

To overcome the challenge facing us, it is not enough to increase agricultural production, we need a collective paradigm shift in the distribution and consumption of food. This is the view of the economist Stefano Zamagni, who recently joined the BCFN Advisory Group, having contributed to the drafting of the Pope’s Encyclical ‘Laudato si’’. This issue will be examined in depth at the upcoming BCFN forum.

Food is now one of the biggest problems facing not only our country, but the entire world. It is an extremely special topic from an economic point of view because food is a product of the market and the entire food production and distribution chain relies on the market. However, although the market works relatively well in terms of production, the same cannot be said for distribution. Anyone who is familiar with the internal mechanisms of the market economy knows that from a distribution point of view there are several obvious flaws, such as food waste, with 1.3 billion tonnes of food thrown away every year. In purely economic terms, the amount of food we waste is absurd: we are throwing away something which has been produced. This is one of the central themes of the work carried out by the BCFN: understanding how the system can be changed so that this phenomenon is reduced at the very least, even if it can’t be completely eliminated. This topic will also be debated in Milan on 1 December at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition organised by the BCFN.

A paradigm shift
An initial response to this problem is undoubtedly linked to the concept of “sustainable consumption”. Consequently, it is clear that a message should be communicated to consumers (“don’t waste food” or “sort your waste”), but this alone is not enough. We need to bring about a paradigm shift for integrated social development – as explained in Pope Francesco’s encyclical Laudato si’. This is where a research foundation like the BCFN comes into play, as it does not simply broadcast the results achieved, but constantly looks to make further progress. This new system needs to be able to rapidly overcome a significant social problem: the need to feed 2.5 billion more people by 2050 –an objective which can be achieved by increasing agricultural production by 70%. But this is the rub: if we continue with the current system of agricultural production used up until now, reaching this goal of a 70% increase in production will pose a grave threat to our ecosystem. This is the social dilemma which we are faced with: we need to increase production, but doing this with the current production system will jeopardise environmental sustainability.

The economy, social development and the environment must be addressed as one
To paraphrase the Pope’s encyclical mentioned above, social issues (hunger) and environmental questions are two faces of the same coin. This is an entirely new viewpoint: until now, environmental problems were dealt with by certain groups while other groups examined social issues. The BCFN’s great insight was to bring these two fields together, fostering dialogue between them. This is where the idea of a paradigm shift emerges, both in the way companies operate and in a radical rethinking of the relationships between business, consumers and the planet’s resources. In my view, this is the biggest challenge facing us today if we want the social dilemma mentioned above to be resolved with a positive outcome. I believe that the BCFN has exactly what it takes to confront this challenge and overcome it. Why? Because the foundation is based on people’s sense of civic duty to deal with the situation facing us as well as the technical and scientific know-how to solve the problem. I am relatively optimistic for the future and the resolution of this problem, providing that large companies can rethink their own management models and start to take action, along with economic and political stakeholders, and the structures focused on preserving our society and our civilisation.
This means considering food as a global common good. Until now, food has been seen as a private good (“I buy it and do what I want with it because it’s mine”) or as a public good, entrusted to the state or international bodies to oversee its distribution. Seeing food as a global common good means changing our outlook and this is the only way we can overcome the challenge facing us today.

Stefano Zamagni
Professor of Economic, the University of Bologna  and member of the BCFN Advisory Board

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