The “Italy and Food” report: a snapshot of a two-speed country

The “Italy and Food” report: a snapshot of a two-speed country

December 19, 2019

The “Italy and Food” report: a snapshot of a two-speed country

Along the pathway leading to the attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, Italy is making good progress in some areas, but the margins for improvement remain high

There are very good results in agriculture, but Italy also scores below the European average in terms of nutritional challenges and the still-excessive rate of food waste. This is the picture that emerges from the “Italy and Food” report, curated by experts at the Barilla Foundation and presented in Milan, at the tenth edition of the International Forum on Food and Nutrition. The report is based on the analysis of data from the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Foundation, which measures the sustainability of food systems in 67 countries around the world.

The index focuses on three pillars of sustainability, likewise the specific report on Italy: nutritional challenges, agriculture, food loss and waste. “A sustainable agri-food system is both the goal and the means to achieve the 2030 Agenda,” reads the report, which provides a snapshot in real time of Italy’s agri-food system, highlighting its strengths and areas for improvement.

The two faces of nutritional challenges

People lead long lives in Italy. In 2016, life expectancy at birth reached 83 years, only one year less than Japan, the world leader in longevity. Healthy life expectancy is also high, at 73 years

To broaden the scope a little, questions must be asked on how long these successes can last. In the overall ranking of 67 countries in terms of nutritional challenges, Italy ranks 34th, while it comes in at 24th in the European (EU-28) table. The reasons for this result include lifestyles with little attention paid to health, which are increasingly driving Italians away from the Mediterranean diet and increasing malnourishment rates. This is typically excess malnourishment, due to too much added sugar and the high amounts of salt in everyday dishes. 37% of children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 are overweight, as are 59% of adults. 

As if that were not enough, Italians do not move about enough, with under 6 out of 10 (59%) reaching the levels of physical activity recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). From an institutional point of view, there is no national strategy on nutrition, but Italy has nevertheless adopted the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020 to monitor the nutritional status of the population and implement ad hoc policies. Some “best practice” has already come into being, such as the MIUR “Sport di classe” (Sport Class) projects in collaboration with Coni, and “Frutta e verdura nelle scuole” (Fruit and Vegetables in Schools), promoted by the European Union.

Progress being made in agriculture 

Italy is Europe's third largest agricultural producer and contributes 12.7% to the value of EU agricultural production (2017 data). In the FSI global ranking on agriculture, it ranks 27th, 14th in Europe with some notable results in terms of sustainability. The daily water footprint per capita is about 6,300 liters, 20% less than in the United States (but 30% more than in France) and almost 30% of the irrigated agricultural area benefits from micro-irrigation, offering greater efficiency. On the other hand, however, Italy imports large volumes of virtual water through the food trade. While there is a lack of a targeted strategy for investment in sustainable agriculture, there are many research projects to protect agricultural ecosystems and enhance services, and insurance coverage related to climate change is also available for employees in the sector. However, there are still some negative aspects, such as one of the highest levels of agricultural land degradation in Europe and the lack of attractiveness of agriculture to young people, in line with the European average. The average age of Italian farmers is 57, with farmers under 35 making up only 5% of the total. 

Too much food is still wasted

Food waste costs Italy more than €15 billion, or about 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Every year, each Italian wastes 65 kg of food. Almost half of this waste (27.5 kg) occurs at the domestic level, while the food loss along the production chain (from post-harvest onward) is below the European average, at just 2% of the total. These figures place Italy 31st in the overall FSI ranking on waste, 18th out of 35 high-income countries. 

No specific target has been set for reducing waste and there is no national system to measure its levels, but steps in the right direction are being taken in several respects. At the legislative level, for example, it is worth mentioning the National Waste Prevention Plan and the Gadda Law (166/2016), facilitating the donation of surplus food since 2016. Italy also participates in numerous projects funded by the European Union, with the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies funding 14 projects in 2018, from government bodies and universities to non-governmental organizations and companies. 

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