Our food system is at risk of crossing ‘environmental limits’ – here’s how to ease the pressure

Marco Springmann

The global food system has a lot to answer for. It is a major driver of climate change, thanks to everything from deforestation to cows burping. Food production also transforms biodiverse landscapes into fields inhabited by a single crop or animal. It depletes valuable freshwater resources, and even pollutes ecosystems when fertilisers and manure washed into streams and rivers. The planet can only take so much of this stress.

Staying within its environmental limits will require a global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, and improving farming practices and technologies. That’s what a team of international researchers and I found in a new study published in the journal Nature.


A call to action

Many of the solutions we analysed are already being implemented in some parts of the world, but it will need strong global coordination and rapid uptake to make their effects felt. For example, tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage and transport, through food packaging and labelling, to changes in legislation and business behaviour that promote zero-waste supply chains.

When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make serious changes possible and attractive for a large number of people. Important aspects include school and workplace programmes, economic incentives and labelling, and aligning national dietary guidelines with the current scientific evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of our diet.

As an individual, you can help by adopting a healthier diet with less meat. You can call on business to reduce waste across their supply chain and offer more plant-based food options. And you can hold politicians to account by demanding strong regulation of environmental resource use and pollution.

The Conversation