IFPRI’s Shenggen Fan on the ‘differentiated approach’ needed to navigate today’s food systems

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Illustrations by (left to right): Hiroko Yoshimoto, Ranganath Krishnamani, Yusuke Yonezu III.

The following sensible comments were recently made by Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Fan is one of the 37 authors of the new report making the media rounds, Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, and a member of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.

‘. . . The new EAT-Lancet report on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, which I had the pleasure of contributing to as a Commission member, provides strategies for countries and stakeholders to navigate food systems at a critical crossroads.

‘Food systems play a key role in nurturing human health and supporting environmental sustainability, yet currently, they are threatening both. Thus, global efforts are urgently needed to collectively transform diets and food production. . . .

‘As the report highlights, transforming to healthy diets by 2050 will require drastic changes. Global consumption of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, will need to double, while overconsumption of foods like added sugars and red meat will need to be more than halved (primarily to address excessive consumption in wealthier countries).

‘At the same time, it will be equally important to take a differentiated approach for healthy and sustainable diets in developing countries and for poor populations. For many developing countries and the poor, undernutrition and access to healthy foods remain as persistent challenges, as noted in the report.

Small amounts of animal-sourced foods (ASFs) (like dairy, eggs, fish or chicken) for young children and women during pregnancy and lactation is crucial for nutrition and health, especially in poor populations.

For instance, research finds a strong association between reduction in stunting and ASF consumption.

‘. . . Many nutrient-dense foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and animal foods) are highly perishable, often making prices significantly higher than that of ultra-processed, nutrient-poor, and calorie-dense staple foods. This makes cost a barrier to the consumption of healthy diets among the poor . . . .

Healthy and sustainable diets may look different from country to country, and we will need more evidence on what drives and challenges the diets of various populations.

‘For the transformation of food systems to ensure human and planetary health for all, it will be crucial for stakeholders to continue to work together in sharing experiences and expanding the knowledge base.’

Read the whole article by Shenggen Fan: Healthy diets and sustainable food systems for all: A differentiated approach for animal-sourced foods (ASFs), IFPRI blog, 25 Jan 2019.

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