Increasing awareness of the impact of diet on health has led many people to rethink what's on their plate. For some, this may mean they have to refrain from processed foods and sugary drinks, while others reduce to red meat. But healthy food is not just about what we eat. It's also about how food is produced.
For millions of people around the world, hidden killers in our broken food system are making healthy eating impossible, says a new report warning of damage from air pollution, water pollution and antibiotic resistance. The report published Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) calls for a reorganization of the food industry.
Foods were identified as as a major cause of health problems in the US, with nearly half of all deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes caused by poor diet. But even as we improve nutrition, we still face the damaging health effects of what the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's report calls the "industrial" way of producing food. By 2050, the report warns, about 5 million people could die each year.
"The way we produce food today is not only extremely wasteful and harmful to the environment, but also causes serious health problems," said Ellen MacArthur, founder of the foundation and former record-breaking sailor. "People around the world need foods that are nutritious and that are grown, produced and delivered in ways that benefit their health, the environment and the economy."
According to the report, overuse and abuse of antibiotics in the fish and livestock industries contribute to the spread of resistant pathogens and antibiotics via waterways and the environment. Antibiotic resistance, which could make it impossible to treat common infections, could cost society $ 1
Agriculture is estimated to cause up to 20 percent of air pollution deaths worldwide, mainly due to overuse of fertilizer and manure. Farmers' exposure to pesticides costs $ 900 billion worldwide. Long-term low pesticide exposure is associated with cancer, asthma and depression.
The other major killer is poor wastewater management or irrigation, which is responsible for the spread of disease and the contamination of drinking water.
According to the report, the answer is to rethink our food systems by crushing food waste and using production methods that do not harm the environment or health. For example, it proposes organic farming methods that do not allow the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock.
Problems in the current food system are not helped by the "lack of traceability about where our food comes from, how it was produced and what happens to the waste", said the main author of the report, Clementine Schouteden.  Cities that predict that 80 percent of all food will be consumed by 2050 can be a major driver of change by bringing people back to food production, such as the market for Armers markets says the report. These increased fivefold in the US from 1994 to 2017, with 8,600 farmers markets selling local products.
Cities should also do more to promote agriculture within their borders and in surrounding areas, the report said. Urban agriculture can make food production more visible and transparent to key customers, according to the report, and methods of urban agriculture such as hydroponics (where the plants are grown in nutrient-filled water) and aeroponics (where the roots hang loosely and are sprinkled with) A nutrient-rich water can help to avoid waste of resources.
Femme Abattoir, an urban aquaponic facility on the roof, for example, built on a Brussels food market, combines aquaculture with hydroponic vegetable growing, recycling nutrients between them and producing more than 38 tonnes of fish (bass) per year.
We need a "vision of a future in which the way we produce and consume food contributes to environmental and health benefits rather than harming human health and the environment," said Dr Gunhild Stordalen Doctor who is the founder and CEO of Global Food's non-profit EAT, in response to the report. There is no quick fix, she added, adding, "We have the knowledge and the tools to act."
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