The circular economy can guarantee healthy food and food production systems

The circular economy can guarantee healthy food and food production systems

February 14, 2019

The circular economy can guarantee healthy food and food production systems

Our current food production settings greatly impact the environment and will soon bring irreparable damage to human health: according to a new report, the circular economy could be the solution.

Re-designing our food production systems on the basis of the circular economy to guarantee that all people across the world have nourishing food, and that this is produced following environmentally-friendly sustainability guidelines. 

These are the recommendations from the  Ellen MacArthur Foundation experts, who authored a report presented in the 2019 edition of the Davos World Economic Forum. The report title - Cities and Circular economy for Food (CCEFF) - puts the real drivers of the transformation of our food production at the forefront: the circular economy and the city. "It is about achieving food systems that help the environment rather than destroy it", the Foundation experts explained. “We need to radically change the way we produce, consume and distribute food, if we really want to solve the great world food paradoxes” added Anna Ruggerini, Operations Director and Member of the Board at the BCFN Foundation, emphasizing that this new urban food setting would have a great impact and would enable us to re-connect the various dimensions of sustainable development: the social, economic and environmental dimension. The overall approach must be one of full sustainability, whereby the various actors and industries work together towards a holistic solution to the problem. 

The data are very clear

According to the CCEFF report, several factors linked to our current industrial food production could cause 5 million deaths by 2050: twice the number of deaths linked to obesity today. But that is not all: every dollar spent on food today generates 2 dollars of health, economic and environmental costs. “In practice, people cannot make healthy food choices if the food production system is not healthy in the first place” claimed the report authors. Indeed, many examples show how food production does not support long term sustainability: food waste, pesticide pollution, degradation of our precious natural capital. Another example is given by the exploitation of non-renewable energy sources, such as fossil fuels for food production and processing. Data shows that in order to produce one single food calorie, we burn 13 calories of oil today. Our current agricultural practices entail large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, which can pollute the water, air and soil. These are further compromised by post-production processes like processing and distribution. It is not a coincidence that the agri-food industry accounts for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. If that was not enough, experts highlight how farming caused 73% of world deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and how food waste has now reached unimaginable levels: each second, 6 truckloads of edible food are wasted in the world. 

(Re)starting from the city

Cities are the ideal starting point for revolutionizing our current food production systems, and for good reason: by 2050, 80% of food will be consumed inside cities. “Given the growing urbanization, the doubling of food demand, the increasing food waste and costs, the pressures on our current food production systems continues to grow. It is now time to take a step back and revise our past actions” wrote Martin Stuchtey, SYSTEMIQ founder and partner, who provided analytical support to the report. How can we start this food system revolution in the city? According to the CCEFF report, we need to focus on three objectives: using regenerative farming sources where possible and opportune, maximizing food via efficient use and food waste reduction, designing and marketing healthier food. “The actions started by cities to reduce waste and improve health through the circular economy are worth something like 2,700 billion dollars a year, globally” underlined the experts, as they presented the report to the economists at Davos. 

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