YES! topic 2018
changing food production and consumption
by Christine Merk, Researcher, IfW Kiel Institute for the World Economy
Johan Rockström summarises the challenge nicely: “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sets targets for ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Food is central to achieving this ambitious agenda, as it lies at the heart of most of the 17 SDGs. Food systems are the main cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the main user of fresh water, the leading cause of biodiversity loss, the main driver of land-use change and the main cause behind human interference in biogeochemical cycles such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Nothing short of a global transformation of the food system will be needed to stand any chance of reaching all 17 SDGs. In short, if we get it right with food, we get it right with everything else.”
But where to start? For example in the EU regulations and subsidy systems for agriculture have grown over decades mostly in favour of large-scale industrialised farming and changes are heavily fought over. Food consumption in industrialised countries has a high CO2-footprint because we eat high amounts of animal protein and source our food from all around the world. Enormous amounts of food are thrown away before it reaches the shops, in the shops, and at home.
Even if people would like to eat healthily and more sustainably, they find it hard to break old habits and do things differently compared to what they have always done or to what everyone around them does. The challenge is to change consumption habits that are deeply rooted in our minds and our society and to prioritise sustainable agriculture.
How can we feed the world’s population which is projected to rise to 9 billion in 2050? Why are there still people who suffer from sustained hunger even though enough food is produced globally? How can we reduce food waste? What are the effects of large-scale vs small-scale farming on the environment? Do we need to eat meat to survive? Why is it difficult to make food production and consumption more sustainable?
First things first: What are the Sustainable Development Goals?! Find out more (http://www.un.org/youthenvoy/video/sustainable-development-goals-explained/)
And now more about food:
The Food and Agricultural Organization (http://www.fao.org) provides information, statistics, videos, reports and a lot more on both agricultural production and food consumption.
The World Resource Institute (http://www.wri.org/publication/shifting-diets) provides interesting graphs and statistics on how diets would have to shift to become sustainable.
The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) researches the effect of eating animal products and climate change (http://www.fcrn.org.uk). On their website you can also find an excellent comment by Johan Rockström (http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/mariepersson/expert-commentary-prof-johan-rockstrom) (who works on the concept of planetary boundaries (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html) on the reasons why large-scale animal farming cannot be sustainable.
Recently, economics has started to pay attention to findings from psychology about how people’s behavior can be changed by nudges. You can read more about nudging in the book by Sunstein and Thaler (Sunstein, C., & Thaler, R. (2008). Nudge. The politics of libertarian paternalism. New Haven.).
The project Nahgast provides information on how to change production practices and food consumption patterns (http://nahgast.de/) – they also have information on nudges.
Christine Merk is a researcher for Environment and Natural Ressources at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. She got a masters degree in Politics and Administration, University of Konstanz, as well as a masters degree in Public Affairs and Politics, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.
Institution: IfW Kiel Institute for the World Economy
YES! Participations: 2018, 2017