Industrially produced food appears to be cheap but is actually very expensive. Recent estimates of the hidden costs of today’s food systems range from US$12 trillion to US$20 trillion annually. These startling statistics include the devastating environmental and human rights impacts of food and poor health due to unhealthy diets.
To put these costs into perspective, they are almost twice the total economic value of the global food system.
Feeding eight billion people healthy, sustainable food by 2030 is a major challenge. Yet realizing human rights requires transforming food systems that cause tens of trillions of dollars in health and environmental damage.
Industrial food production is a major driver of the planetary environmental emergency. Food systems are responsible for 21 to 37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 70 percent of water use, and 80 percent of pollution caused by eutrophication and marine dead zones.
Agriculture and aquaculture are major threats to 85 percent of species identified as threatened with extinction. Deforestation—the expansion of agricultural land primarily to produce beef, soy and palm oil—is responsible for 30 percent of infectious diseases that are transmitted from wildlife and livestock to humans, increasing the risk of epidemics.
Environmental problems are compounded by food loss and waste, as an estimated 30 percent of all food produced is never eaten.
Driven by rising wealth, population growth and the increasing dominance of input-intensive industrial agriculture, the negative environmental impacts of food systems are skyrocketing. The use of synthetic fertilizers has increased by more than 800 percent since the 1960s. Meat production jumped more than 500 percent. An unhealthy diet is considered the world’s most important risk factor for the disease, contributing to more than 10 million premature deaths annually.
Enough food is produced annually to provide adequate nutrition for all, but a large portion is fed to livestock, wasted or used to manufacture non-food products such as biofuels.
Two billion people do not have adequate access to safe, nutritious and adequate food, with 700 to 800 million people starving daily. Ironically, more than two billion people are overweight or obese.
Diets in high- and middle-income countries include an increasing share of excessive animal protein and ultra-processed, nutrient-poor foods. Unhealthy diets contribute to a smorgasbord of obesity, diabetes and non-communicable diseases.
The environmental impacts associated with industrialized food systems and unhealthy diets interfere with the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, water, food, a healthy environment, development, adequate living standards, cultural rights. Child rights and indigenous rights.
rights and obligations
To prevent negative impacts on human rights and the environment, governments should apply a rights-based approach to all food-related laws, regulations, policies and actions. The rights-based approach should focus on the right to food and the right to a healthy environment. This approach will clarify the obligations of governments and the responsibilities of businesses; catalyzing ambitious actions; Prioritizing progress for the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized communities; and involve people in designing and implementing solutions.
Not all food systems contribute equally to environmental degradation and human rights violations. There is a huge variety of production practices and also a wide range of diets. The use of water, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and other inputs, as well as the associated levels of pollution and environmental damage, vary widely by type of food and production method. Meat and dairy generally use the most land and have the greatest environmental impact per calorie produced. Agricultural ecology – a holistic approach to food systems that integrates ecological principles with social equity – offers more healthy and sustainable practices.
Experts have called for transformational changes in food systems to achieve fair, healthy and sustainable results. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development states that “the way the world develops its food will have to be fundamentally changed to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to be saved by a growing population and To tackle climate change is to avoid social breakdown and environmental degradation.”
The good news is that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the carbon sink, reducing air and water pollution, reducing water scarcity, reducing the use of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics, can restore soil health. Proven solutions are available to protect and reduce biological diversity. Risks of zoonotic diseases. Many solutions offer many benefits – for example, reducing pesticide use is good for soil, biodiversity and human health.
While the foregoing changes are necessary, they are not sufficient. Meeting the rights to food and a healthy environment requires reducing inequalities, promoting healthy and sustainable diets, reducing food loss and wastage, and making governance more participatory, preventive and precautionary.
Economic reforms are also necessary. More than US$600 billion in food-related subsidies that undermine sustainability, supporting smallholders (farms of less than two hectares), agronomy and innovation, implementing sustainable production practices, over-fishing and Damaged ecosystems must be remodeled to restore them.
Prioritizing the rights to food and a healthy environment provides a clear path towards equitable and sustainable food systems. This is not an option for governments; It is an obligation.