June 23, 2017
Is the United States on the right path to implementing a sustainable agricultural system? According to the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) – a tool that ranks countries on food system sustainability – the United States scored nineteenth out of 20 countries and 5 nations for sustainable agriculture. This means the United States is losing the race in terms of things like environmental impact of agriculture on water, land, and atmosphere, water management, land use, agricultural subsidies, animal welfare policies, diversification of agricultural system, and environmental biodiversity.
The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently came out with the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) to rank countries based on three pillars: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges. Under this tool, food sustainability is defined broadly as “progress and performance in promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring healthy nutrition, and reducing food waste and losses.”
The index looks at the 20 countries that make up the G20 – these countries have the largest economies and make up two-thirds of the global population – and 5 nations from regions otherwise unrepresented (Israel, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Colombia, UAE). The top- scoring countries under the FSI are France, Japan, and Canada. The United States had an overall ranking of eleventh place.
More specifically, we scored sixth for food loss and waste and twelfth for nutritional challenges. Unfortunately, we scored nineteenth for sustainable agriculture. The United States must do more if we are going to find the right path to implementing a sustainable agriculture system.
The chart below displays the indicators measured that have either bolstered or undermined the United States’ score (with 0 the minimum amount of points awarded and 100 the maximum).
Our country’s high score for food loss and waste means that we are performing relatively well in terms of actual food loss, policy response to food loss and waste, cause of distribution-level loss, and solutions to distribution-level loss. While this is encouraging news for the United States, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to food waste at the “end-user” level—meaning that too many of us are throwing away valuable produce in our homes or leaving it behind on plates at restaurants.
The Index was designed with the goal of illuminating countries’ strengths and weaknesses in implementing sustainable food practices. The overarching goal is to bring to light the international policies and conservation practices that mitigate three alarming global paradoxes:
- Nearly one billion people are malnourished, yet over one billion tons of food are wasted annually.
- Access to fresh water and food is limited by the tremendous amount of land, food, and water that is devoted to animal feed and biofuels.
- For every one person who is malnourished, two people are obese.
While Maryland is of course unique, many of the state’s food sustainability issues are similar to those experienced on the national and global scale. Maryland is a piece of a much larger system and this should be taken into consideration when prioritizing local actions to increase residents’ nutritional and environmental well-being (i.e. clean air, clean water).
Marylanders can increase food sustainability by taking matters into our own hands. For instance, to better our score (and the food system!) we can make sure to purchase the correct amount of food and store it properly to mitigate food waste. Collective local action in conjunction with personal food waste management will be the primary ways to better our food sustainability moving forward.
Community members can join together for innovative solutions, like expanding residential food waste collection services. Grassroots efforts to collect residential compost have already begun in Frederick County with the foundation of Key City Compost by Phil Wescott and two others members. Food waste is collected in downtown Frederick and Jefferson and turned into valuable compost at Fox Haven Organic Farm & Learning Center. While it is more efficient to simply stop creating food waste by purchasing and storing food efficiently, when this isn’t possible, we can divert our scraps from going to waste by recognizing their potential as precious organic matter.
End-user food waste is just one indicator of many that Marylanders can take action on to improve our overall food sustainability. Supporting sustainable farmers, decreasing the prevalence of sugar in diets, increasing levels of physical activity, and advocating for sustainable agricultural subsidies are all ways that we can positively impact ourselves, the state of Maryland, and the United States.
Learn more about the Food Sustainability Index and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition. BCFN is a private, non-profit think tank working on economic, scientific, social and environmental research related to food, nutrition, and sustainability. The EIU is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group and helps businesses, financial firms, and governments understand changes and opportunities in the global market.