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Why food policy is more important than ever

Wednesday, 30 May 2018 15:01 GMT

A farmer seeks for bagrada hilaris, also known as painted bugs, on his lettuces at a farm in Penaflor, near Santiago, Chile April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Effective food policies can drive change in all corners of the food system, but it’s going to take each of us working together

It’s clear that the global food system is in trouble. There are 815 million malnourished people worldwide, yet we use crops for animal feed and biofuels, and we throw away more than 30 percent of all food. Meanwhile, unsustainable farming practices have wreaked havoc on the environment, and extreme weather events threaten farmers’ already strained livelihoods.

While the 2018 Farm Bill undergoes debate, we’re reminded of the true potential of sustainable food policies in developing solutions to hunger and obesity, preventing food loss and food waste, promoting nutrient-dense and indigenous crops, and realizing a more equitable food system. Particularly in developing countries, agricultural progress is a powerful tool in reducing poverty.

Effective food policies can drive change in all corners of the food system. At the national and global levels, incentives for farmers to grow sustainably and the expanded use of food stamps at farmers’ markets can help reduce food insecurity. Policymakers can also promote education and training in sustainable farming, encouraging new farmers to establish sustainable technologies.

In Nourished Planet, a new book by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), a diverse group of internationally renowned experts chart the path towards building a more sustainable global food system - and they point to policy as one of the key drivers.

And there are plenty of stories of success: from urban farmers in Nairobi, Kenya, who developed vertical gardens credited with saving thousands from food insecurity, to a national network in Egypt that has cut grain waste from nearly 50 percent to less than 5 percent.

Well-regulated policies and programs - particularly those focused on the diffusion of technologies, knowledge, and innovations - have consistently proven impact on food access and nutrition security.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 reformed nutrition standards for American taxpayer-subsidized school meal programs for the first time in 30 years, successfully helping children (particularly the most vulnerable) eat more fruits and vegetables. And according to a 2016 study at Purdue University, families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program were able to increase their food security by 25 percent.

In 2003, Denmark pioneered the ban on industrially produced trans fats, and cardiovascular disease mortality rates dramatically dropped after a decade. Finland and the United Kingdom, early adopters of salt-reduction initiatives, saw a 25 to 45 percent reduction of salt content in key foods.

The Food Sustainability Index is a global benchmark for change which policymakers can use to analyze the relationship between food and scientific, economic, social, and environmental factors. As the largest sector of our economy, food touches everything—our health, the environment, climate change, economic inequality.

Policymakers need to look at what’s worked and what hasn’t, and make decisions based on evidence to move forward on the path towards sustainably feeding a growing world population - and there is plenty of evidence.

It is essential for not only those in politics to get involved in the conversation surrounding food policy and regulations. Eaters everywhere have the opportunity to get involved and join a local food policy council or write to elected officials to voice a concern over food policy issues. And staying informed through reading books and the latest news in food policy is key.

Creating a more economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and socially just food and agriculture system around the globe is possible, but it’s going to take each of us working together, driving forward for change.

Danielle Nierenberg is the founder and president of Food Tank.

Emily Payne is a food system writer and editor based in New York.