COVID-19: Reset food systems now for a better future

By Cecilia Russell
MILAN, Italy, Jun 4 2020 (IPS) – The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inherent fragility of food systems, Marta Antonelli told an international video conference organised by the Barilla Center for Food Nutrition (BCFN). However, she said, it also offered an opportunity to reset the way food is produced, distributed and consumed.
The pandemic disrupted the food system, triggering food insecurity and resulted in sharp increases in the cost of food – up to 10 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. Jobs were lost, children who received one meal a day at school lost access to this source of nutrition, and the pandemic would see an increase in the number of people who go hungry.
Antonelli, who is BCFN’s head of research, said the pandemic had focused global attention on the importance of nutrition. With one in three adults in developed and developing countries overweight or obese with their share of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes created a community vulnerable to the disease.
Antonelli said the launch of BCFN’s 10-point strategy on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, aimed to create a global dialogue of scientists, businesses, NGOs, civil society about the organisation’s actionable strategy to enable eaters – people – to make healthy and sustainable choices easily.
The wide-ranging 10-point strategy includes creating international best practise for creating healthy food systems – while respecting food preferences and culture, cut down on food loss and waste on farms, kitchens and restaurants, involve business to focus on health and sustainability.
It also includes a call to incentivise technological and digital innovation in food and agricultural information, improving seed security and building and education to empower eaters to make sustainable and healthy food choices.
Speaker after speaker highlighted nutrition and food impact on the COVID-19 pandemic: from its genesis in bats to implications for those sickened by the virus.
“COVID-19 is providing unprecedented opportunities to create a resilient food system that is truly regenerative and restorative, healthier for people, and leaves no one behind. This is also essential to accelerate the transition towards the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are all directly or indirectly connected to food,” BCFN said in a statement.
Professor Riccardo Valentini of the University of Tuscia, RUDN University of Moscow said habitat destruction was crucial for understanding the genesis of the pandemic. COVID-19 was not China’s problem or the problem of any other one country. It needed to be addressed globally.
This reinforced the theme that there is only one health system: for humans, animals, plants and the environment.
At least two speakers addressed the issue of COVID-19 and nutrition – of food as medicine or how bad nutrition could jeopardise health.
Gabriele Riccardi, of the University of Naples Federico II, said middle- and high-income countries, with their mainly animal-based and refined carbohydrate diets, found it exposed people to the devastating effects the virus. COVID-19 adversely affected people with comorbidity associated with obesity like heart diseases.
It was significant Riccardi said, in the last ten years many countries, which had previously improved nutrition, had moved in the wrong direction. The consumption of fruit and vegetables declined, while the use of meat increased.
He called for a system which supported production that ensured availability and affordability of good nutritious food even in the most remote marketplaces.
Camillo Ricordi, from the University of Miami on the other hand, said early studies indicated that good nutrition, in particular, adequate consumption of vitamins D and C and Omega 3 enhanced the immune system and produced clear benefits in resistance to the disease and ability to decrease inflammation.
Barbara Buchner, of the Climate Policy Initiative, said the pandemic was a wake-up call for all social and financial systems to be better prepared for a crisis. She said it was frightening that only 8 percent of public finance was currently channelled into sustainable land use and this was exaggerating the growing crisis of food security in many nations.
She said it was likely that $20 trillion would be spent in the next six to 18 months to stimulate economies as governments globally rollout plans and cash for economic stimulus and enhancing social safety nets.
“We have a window to rebuild our world for more inclusive, more resilient, more sustainable future,” Buchner said. It was essential financial solutions that can drive resources towards sustainable agriculture supply chain were found – for example, through public-private incubator initiatives such as the Global Innovation Lab for climate finance.
She concluded that global solidarity and leadership were critical for maximising the positive impact of the recovery on building a resilient food system that is healthy, healthier for the people, but also for the planet and that leaves no one behind.”