Introduction To a Sustainable Future of Food
On September 3rd, 2020, the Rize Sustainable Future of Food UCITS ETF (FOOD) began trading on the London Stock Exchange. FOOD seeks to invest in companies that are innovating across the food value chain to build a more sustainable, secure and fair food system for our planet.
With global resources dwindling and the population growing, the challenge of providing sustainable, nutritious and healthy food to a growing, urbanising population more efficiently while also reducing the environmental damage to the planet is intensifying. By 2050, global food systems will need to meet the dietary demands of more than 10 billion versus 7.8 billion people exiting 2019.
What is sustainable food?
Food is essential to life. It forms an important part of our cultural identity, and plays an important role in the economy. People are aware that the food they eat is an important factor in determining their health, but what’s less well known is the impact that producing and consuming food has on the world’s resources. Alongside the cars we drive and the energy we consume, the food we produce and eat takes a significant toll on the environment. For example, this is through the emission of greenhouse gases, the use of land and water resources, pollution, depletion of phosphorus and the impact of chemical products such as herbicides and pesticides on soil biology and function.
What is a sustainable food system?
A sustainable food system is a type of food system that provides healthy food to people while also ensuring sustainable impacts on both environmental, economic and social systems that surround food. Sustainable food systems start with the development of sustainable agricultural practices, development of more sustainable food distribution systems, creation of sustainable diets and reduction of food waste throughout the system. Sustainable food systems have been claimed to be central to many if not all of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Problems with conventional food systems
Conventional food systems are largely based on the availability of inexpensive fossil fuels, which are necessary for mechanised agriculture, the manufacture of chemical fertilisers, the processing of foods and the packaging of food products. Demand for cheap and efficient calories has climbed as populations have expanded, resulting in a general decline in nutrition. Industrialised agriculture, due to its reliance on economies of scale to reduce production costs, often leads to the compromising of local, regional and even global ecosystems through fertiliser runoff, nonpoint source pollution and green gas emissions. Further, the need to reduce production costs in an increasingly global market can cause production of foods to be moved to areas where economic costs (labour, taxes, etc.) are lower or environmental regulations are more lax, which are usually further from the end consumer markets. For example, the majority of salmon sold in the United States is raised off the coast of Chile, due in large part to less stringent Chilean standards regarding fish feed and regardless of the fact that salmon are not indigenous in Chilean coastal waters. The globalisation of food production can result in the loss of traditional food systems in less developed countries, and have negative impacts on the population health, ecosystems, and cultures in those countries.
The World Resources Institute has warned that:
“If today’s levels of production efficiency were to remain constant through 2050, then feeding the planet would entail clearing most of the world’s remaining forests, wiping out thousands more species, and releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions to exceed the 1.5°C and 2°C warming targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement, even if emissions from all other human activities were entirely eliminated.”
Changing consumer preferences
Today we see a strong movement towards healthy, sustainable eating as a major component of overall ethical consumerism. The increasing instances of obesity and related diseases are making consumers more health-conscious and they are demanding food and beverage products that are natural and low in fat and calorie content.
“The average Western diet with high intakes of meat, fat and sugar is a risk for individual health, social systems and the environmental life support systems. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and cancer are wide-spread diet-related diseases. The promotion of a healthy diet also reduces the environmental footprint of food consumption in Europe and globally.”
Roughly 463 million people are living with diabetes, and according to the International Diabetes Federation, that number is expected to soar to nearly 700 million by 2045. Studies claim a whole-food, plant based diet can prevent and even reverse a litany of food and lifestyle-borne illnesses, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. At the same time, consumer preference is shifting away from animal products largely due to rising concerns about animal welfare, personal health, and importantly, sustainability. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the World Watch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51%.
Note: Greenhouse gas emissions are given as global average values based on data across 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries. Source: Our World in Data, “Food: Greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain”, January 2020. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/food-choice-vs-eating-local
 WRI, “How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts”, August 2020. Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/12/how-sustainably-feed-10-billion-people-2050-21-charts
 United Nations, “FAO and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals”, 2015. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&type=400&nr=2205&menu=1515
 Our World in Data, “Environmental impacts of food production”, January 2020. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food
 Al Jazeera, “Are Chile’s industrial salmon farms changing the seas?”, November 2019. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/chile-industrial-salmon-farms-changing-seas-191110182531076.html
 World Resources Institute, “Executive Summary Synthesis”, December 2018. Available at: https://research.wri.org/wrr-food/executive-summary-synthesis
 Retailer Leader, “Consumers want more fresh, less processed food”, October 2017. Available at: https://retailleader.com/consumers-want-more-fresh-less-processed-food
 International Diabetes Foundation, “”Diabetes facts and figures”, February 2020. Available at: https://www.idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html
 US National Library of Medicine, “A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes”, May 2017. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466941/
 Sentient Media, “The Climate Crisis Secret”, 2020. Available at: https://sentientmedia.org/the-climate-crisis-secret