Global policy report: What future for the global food system?

The report suggests which actions to implement to create economic benefits for all and improve everybody’s quality of life



Philipp Ysenburg

Publication date

February 10, 2024

In what is perhaps the most ambitious study on food systems to this day, the Food System Economic Commission (FSEC) brought together an interdisciplinary cohort of leading scientists and economists to deliver its Global Policy Report.  The collaborative effort by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the Food and Land use coalition (FOLU), and EAT presents, in this report, two visions for the future of our global food system. 

The change we need to improve our quality of life

Its Current Trends pathway predicts that if our food systems remain unchanged, by 2050, over half a billion people will be malnutritioned, obesity will increase by 70%, and, with a third of greenhouse emissions expected to be coming from the agriculture industry, our food systems will be ever so vulnerable to the already increasing presence of extreme weather events.

On the other hand, in their Food System Transformation pathway, the FSEC presents a utopic yet attainable vision of a human-centered, environmentally sustainable food system and the enormous economic benefits thereof. With the proper policy and practices, they suggest, by 2050 the agriculture industry could become a net carbon sink where over 400 million farm workers enjoy a dignified income, undernutrition is eradicated and diet-related health problems are vastly decreased. 

Through innovative policy design and determined decision-making, Europe can play a pivotal role in the process of making this latter vision a reality – and in many ways it already is. The FSEC report highlights the importance of transitioning towards a plant-based and locally produced diet; an imperative already emphasized in the latest recommendations from the EU’s Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change

Transitioning from an unhealthy to a healthy diet

There is, however, still a lot of ground to cover as far as concrete action is concerned. The report suggests that the most economic benefit can be found in the transition from healthy to unhealthy diets. Adding clear nutritional labels on the front of food packages, taxing unhealthy foods, and creating safety nets to help low-income individuals afford healthy food options are some of the concrete steps the FSEC recommends for Europe and the Global North at large. 

As a group of economists, one of the FSEC’s main goals in this report was to establish the opportunity costs between the two mentioned pathways, that is, between inaction and action. The FSEC estimates that the hidden cost of our current food systems and the problems they generate amount to “well above 10t$”. This figure is higher than the contribution of food systems to Global GDP, meaning that they “destroy more value than they create”. With an investment of 0.2-0.4 percent of global GDP per year, the FSEC suggests that these costs could be mitigated, alleviating economic disaster worldwide.

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