Focusing on food sustainability: the Food Sustainability Index comes to the States

Focusing on food sustainability: the Food Sustainability Index comes to the States

September 13, 2018

Focusing on food sustainability: the Food Sustainability Index comes to the States

How does the USA perform in terms of food sustainability? There is room for improvement, according to the Food Sustainability Index, the third edition of which will be presented in New York on 28 September. Reasons include the lack of development of ’sustainable agriculture and poor nutritional models, amongst others.

21st out of 34 in food sustainability according to the 2017 edition: this how the United States is performing, according to the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), the tool developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation, which analyzes food worldwide and rates countries' performance in relation to policies and good practices for sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and the fight against food waste. The new edition of the Index will be presented by Leo Abbruzzese, Global Director of Public Policy at the Economist Intelligence Unit, during the BCFN Forum in New York on 28 September.

The United States situation

The Index's three main pillars are nutritional challenges, food waste and sustainable agriculture: it is a qualitative and quantitative analysis model based on 35 main indicators and 55 sub-indicators, analyzed using a multidisiciplinary approach. The first edition of the Food Sustainability Index was presented to an international audience of experts on 1 December 2016, at the seventh edition of the International Forum on Food and Nutrition.

In terms of food waste, in the 2017 edition the USA was placed ninth, but it was in sustainable agriculture that the country's score really tumbled. Only India, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates received fewer points in this category. 

With regard to nutritional challenges, on the other hand, the United States was 24th. It is easy to explain these figures: the farming industry produces very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, due to the large quantities of animal feed consumed, while at the same time the percentage of land used for organic farming is very low. Average pro capita meat consumption in the USA is one of the highest in the world (225.4 grams per day), and it is well known that raising animals for slaughter has a very high environmental impact: according to the FAO, this sector generates about 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, apart from the fact, that according to calculations by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), it takes 15,000 liters of water to produce one kilo of meat.

Too much sugar and junk food

With regard to its lowly ranking on quality of diet, the United States has one of the highest levels of pro capita sugar consumption amongst the countries studied by the FSI. This problem is rooted in the relationship between food and culture: easy access to fast food, combined with the lack of exercise which affects four fifths of the American population, gives the United States an extremely high obesity rate. According to official data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 38% of American adults are obese and the figure rises to more than 70% for those considered overweight. Children are also affected (more than 4 out of 10 are obese) and this condition significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and cancer.


The struggle against food waste

The Federal authorities are working hard to combat food waste, and the USA is aiming to halve the level of waste by 2030. The United States currently has one of the highest per capita levels of food waste anywhere in the world. About 40 per cent of food produced ends up in a landfill. The United States Department of Agriculture hopes that if this waste can be reduced, more food will reach the 41.2 million Americans whose access to it is restricted. A reduction in food waste will also help to save households and businesses money and protect the environment. 

The United States is the country chosen to host the next BCFN Foundation Food International Forum, to be held in New York on 28 September 2018. The event is being organized to coincide with the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA73) and will be presented jointly by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation and the United Nationals Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN-SDSN).

The conference will comprise three sessions: the first will discuss the world nutritional crisis and the search for solutions for sustainable food. The second session will examine the role of sustainable agriculture as an opportunity for considering the global phenomenon of migration and, to conclude, the third session will focus on concrete solutions, from a global to a local perspective, for urban systems based on food sustainability.

The Food Sustainability Index will be amongst the topics to be discussed on 28 September 2018 in New York, during the BCFN Foundation International Forum on Food and Nutrition.

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