Press Release: Industry, research and public action needed for healthy, sustainable diet shifts

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Large-scale dietary shifts over the past 70 years reveal combined scientific, technological, political and cultural innovations drive transformations in food systems. 

15 April 2021, Penang, MALAYSIA – New research has found coordinated, cross-sector policies, investments, and innovations are key to large-scale shifts in food production and consumption, and will be essential to meet the global call to transform food systems toward diets that are healthy for both people and planet. 

Published in Nature Food, the study analyzed the drivers that led to large national dietary shifts toward milk, farmed Tilapia, and chicken over the past 70 years and identified pathways in the food system that led to transformation. Results suggest rapid uptake of new foods at large scales is possible with combined public policy leadership and private-sector technological innovation alongside consumers who culturally value and can afford new foods. 

Current global food production and consumption puts excessive pressure on natural systems and environmental sustainability, while many populations find access to healthy foods difficult and prohibitively expensive. To transform food systems toward nutritious, low-carbon, sustainable diets for all, the researchers call for a systems approach to promote interrelated and interdependent actions that lead shifts in the way food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed.  

The study’s lead author Dr. Emily Moberg, who is Research Lead Specialist of Markets Institute at World Wildlife Fund, said: “Dramatic shifts in diet have taken place, but they took decades and the alignment of technological development, public policy and funding, and marketing and advertising pressure, and these all interacted with existing food culture. This means we need to be pro-active and coordinated if we want to effect change for contemporary diets at speed and scale.” 

Co-lead author Dr. Eddie Allison who is WorldFish Science and Research Interim Director, Aquatic Food Systems, said: “The 2021 Food Systems Summit is a gathering of people influential in shaping the global food system. It represents a critical moment to take decisive steps  towards a sustainable, fair, and healthy food system. Aligning policies, research and innovation and investments to support the production and consumption   of safe, nutritious foods that are accessible to all and that can be produced, packaged and distributed with minimal cost to the environment is imperative. This combined action is necessary for the scale and pace of transformation required to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eliminating global hunger, meeting carbon emissions targets and halting and reversing the degradation of land and water ecosystems.” 

“The current, modern global food system can be mobilized to deliver healthier, more sustainable diets, but only if there are strong public sector policies to ensure that private sector innovation in production, distribution, and marketing of food align with delivering these global public goods that are essential if we are to meet the SDGs. In the recent past, major food companies have innovated towards cheaper, less healthy foods, with little consideration for environmental costs of production, packaging, and retail. The incentive mechanisms to direct their innovation towards meeting SDGs need to be identified and put into action.” 

Read the study: Combined innovations in public policy, the private sector and culture can drive sustainability transitions in food systems 



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Matthew O’Leary 
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About WorldFish   

WorldFish is an international, nonprofit research and innovation institution that creates, advances, and translates aquatic food systems science into scalable solutions. We vision an inclusive world of healthy, well-nourished people and a sustainable blue planet, now and in the future. Our mission is to end hunger and advance progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals through science and innovation to transform food, land, and water systems with aquatic foods for healthier people and the planet.  

For over 45-years, WorldFish’s data, evidence, and insights have shaped practices, policies, and investments to end hunger and advance sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries.  We have a global presence across 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, with 460 staff of 30 nationalities deployed where the greatest sustainable development challenges can be addressed through holistic aquatic food systems solutions. Embedded in local, national, and international partnerships, our work sets agendas, builds capacities, and supports decision-making for climate action, food and nutrition security, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, blue economy, OneHealth, and AgriTech, integrating gender, youth, and social inclusion.    

A core element of the 2030 WorldFish Research and Innovation Strategy: Aquatic Foods for Healthy People and Planet is focused on building resilience of aquatic food systems to shocks, which is critical to COVID-19 response and recovery.  

WorldFish is part of One CGIAR, the world’s largest agricultural research and innovation network.  

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