The world needs to undergo a “food revolution” to regenerate natural resources, eliminate waste and produce healthy food without the need for harmful practices, according to a new report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Currently, for every dollar spent on food, society pays two dollars in health, environmental, and economic costs, the Cities and Circular Economy for Food report found. Half these costs – totalling US$5.7tn each year globally – are due to the way food is produced.
Hidden killers caused by industrial food production are making healthy eating impossible for people around the world, the report warns, adding that excessive use of pesticides, antibiotics in livestock farming, and poor management of fertilisers, could lead to 5 million deaths a year globally by 2050.
The current food system has supported a fast-growing population and fuelled economic development and urbanisation, yet the report says these productivity gains have come at a cost, and the model is no longer fit to meet longer term needs.
It claims that eliminating waste and improving health through the circular economy could be worth US$2.7tn a year to the global economy.
Cities are key to this food revolution, according to the report. By 2050 they will consume 80% of food, giving them the power to drive the shift to a healthier system.
The report suggests that as part of a food revolution waste products should be transformed into new products ranging from organic fertilisers and biomaterials to medicine and bioenergy; food should be grown regeneratively, and locally where appropriate; and healthier food products should be designed and marketed.
It says that realising the vision at scale will require unprecedented collaboration between food brands, producers, retailers, city governments, waste managers, and other urban food actors.
“The way we produce food today is not only extremely wasteful and damaging to the environment, it is causing serious health problems,” said Ellen MacArthur. “It cannot continue in the long term. We urgently need to redesign the system. People around the world need food that is nutritious, and that is also grown, produced and delivered in a way that benefits their health, the environment and the economy.”