Towards healthy and sustainable diets: the role of the private sector

10 July 2019

Today, the last of a string of events organized as part of the EAT Lancet report launch takes place in Pampanga, Philippines. We took this as an opportunity to reflect on the much-anticipated EAT Lancet report and the various events surrounding its launch.

ATNI attended the Netherlands launch of the EAT/Lancet Sustainable Diets  report last month in The Hague. The findings on the 2019 Global Food Policy Report were also presented at the event which gathered together a range of stakeholders.

A clear message emerged from both reports and the following discussions: the global food system crisis is accelerating. Addressing these complex challenges will require of context specific solutions and multiple stakeholders working together.

The global food system is failing to provide people with access to sufficient healthy foods and diets that are appropriate, safe and that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Hunger is on the rise, with an estimated 820 million people in the world suffering from hunger. 155 million children in the world are stunted, 41 million are overweight, 2 billion adults are overweight or obese and 2 billion people lack key micronutrients.

The 2019 Global Food Policy report addresses the food system challenges through the lens of rural revitalization, calling for a careful look into the rural areas, where most global poverty is concentrated and the rural-urban links as vital areas to address food system challenges. SMEs and local traders are key actors from different value-chains. Further investments like increasing female empowerment, land tenure reforms, and access to inputs are necessary to address poverty and increasing the efficiency of sustainable production systems. All these efforts demand the inclusion and participation of multiple stakeholders, including the private sector.

The goal to reach a world free of malnutrition while ensuring planetary health brings enormous challenges. While the global food system is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases many agricultural areas and small holder farmers are already being affected by the impacts of climate change. The EAT/Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems provides scientific basis for a diet that ensures optimal health and environmental sustainability, in summary: promoting more plant-based foods while lowering the amounts of animal-based products included in the diet. Yet, regional differences are important and healthy and sustainable diets can be quite costly. Improvements and innovations on production technologies, biodiversity protection and access to inputs will be necessary steps to collaborate with the food industry.

Engaging with the food and beverage companies

More and more people have access to processed foods. A clear stakeholder in addressing the malnutrition crisis and to help achieve sustainable diets is the private sector. The global F&B industry is enormous: It grew by 25% between 2011 and 2016, faster than the world population, and generated close to $2.7 trillion in revenue in 2016.

Innovations in supply chain, fortification, sustainable packaging and product labeling are happening within the food sector. To help people achieve more sustainable diets, companies and investors are scaling up plant-based meat alternatives. Some initiatives aim to quantity the external costs of production and consumption, i.e. quantifying the social and environmental costs of coffee production.

To address diet related diseases, one example is the recent commitment by the IFB Alliance, which represents some of the world’s largest food-producing companies, has officially committed to adhere to the WHOs trans fat elimination target by 2023.

The development sector and governmental agencies appear to be more ready than ever to engage with the food and beverage companies. We are excited to see new initiatives continue to foster an environment of stakeholder collaborations.

By Estefania Marti Malvido, ATNI Intern

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