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Food and sustainability

The reasons behind the Food Sustainability Index

Do we really need a food sustainability index? The answer is very much “yes”, especially if we want to properly tackle the problems in the food system and provide a useful tool for bringing about change.

There is an abundance of different indices focused on food. There is the Global Food Index published by Oxfam, a group of NGOs working to reduce poverty; the Food Price Index by the FAO, the UN agency dedicated to food and agriculture; the Food Security Index created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which also collaborated with the BCFN to produce the Food Sustainability Index presented in Milan in December 2016 during the BCFN International Forum on Food and Nutrition, and many others besides. In order to analyse the most widespread current food systems, it is clear that we need a new tool which establishes a close link between food and the environment.

The food system in all its complexity
There can be no doubt that food is essential for life from a biological point of view. However, it does not just provide fuel for our bodies: it is also a significant part of our identity and has a very significant role in the economy of individual people and entire nations, as highlighted by the experts from the European Commission for the environment. Nowadays, any discussion about food needs to involve the environment and the sustainability of food systems, because a large part of the planet’s health and the future of humanity depends on it. According to the European Commission’s website, on the page dedicated to sustainable food, “in the most literal sense of the word, ‘sustainability’ means using resources at a speed and in ways which allow the planet to replace them”. The same page also features the conclusion of the group of experts in the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR): “Most of the current food systems compromise the Earth’s ability to produce food in the future”. The European experts go further, listing the main issues which need to be taken into account in order to understand the complexity of the food system and how to make it genuinely sustainable. These include: global trends of growth and the movement of populations, the price of food, changes in diets, food waste, changes in product supply chains, fishing, water, the loss of biodiversity and the substances used to increase agricultural yields.

The basis of the Food Sustainability Index
The food sustainability index, developed by the BCFN in collaboration with EIU, takes a novel approach by offering a totally holistic overview and taking into account the many factors which can make a food system fully sustainable. According to the experts in the document Fixing Food, an analysis produced one again by the collaboration between the BCFN and the EIU, and centred around the themes of agriculture, nutrition and food loss and waste, “the creation of the Food Sustainability Index was based on the BCFN’s continual commitment to involving civil society, political decision-makers and economic summits in tackling the challenges which the world currently faces”. The index examines the ability of various countries to keep up with the three paradoxes in the global food system – sustainable agriculture, nutrition and food waste – with four key objectives: highlighting the performance of different countries, establishing the points of reference for comparison, providing examples of best practices at national and individual levels, and measuring progress over time.

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