Changing Food Systems

Nutrition combined Environmental Assessment of Global Diets

Authors: Abhishek Chaudhary1, Alexander Mathys1
Author Affiliations: 1Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zurich

Food systems are at the heart of majority of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past studies have shown that dietary transformation such as replacing animal-sourced food with plant-based alternatives on a national level can lead to reduced environmental impact as well as reduced human health risk. However, most studies have focused either on a particular country, limited number of nutrients (e.g. total calories, fat or protein) and selected environmental damage indicators (e.g. GHG emissions). Thus, these previous studies have not considered micronutrient intake, whose deficiency (so called ‘hidden hunger’) affects more than 2 billion people globally. Here we investigate whether nutrient and environmental sustainability point to convergent or divergent goals by considering nation-specific dietary patterns, comprehensive nutrient composition of food items and multiple environmental indicators (climate change, water use, land use, biodiversity loss). We first assess the nutritional quality of average national diets of 156 countries taking into account the total daily intake of >25 essential macro and micro nutrients and several nutrients of health concern (e.g. cholesterol, sugar, saturated fat) and comparing them to their daily dietary reference intakes (DRI) and maximum reference values (MRV) respectively. Next, we compile the environmental footprint of national diets through literature review and databases of emission factors for individual food items. The results show that different countries have widely varying scores depending upon the indicator considered. Currently, high-income nations score well on essential nutrient intake, but poorly on environmental footprint, and health sensitive nutrient intake indicators. We found that transitioning towards standard dietary guidelines and more plant-based diets would improve both nutrition indicators and environmental footprints of all nations in general, but might need to be accompanied by supplementation of micronutrients such as Selenium, Vitamin-D and Vitamin-B12 whose intake is currently met primarily through animal-based foods. Our integrated nutrition-environmental quantitative assessment of global diets can provide new insights to policy-makers of individual countries for setting improvement targets on areas of concern and adopt measures to achieve nutrition, human health and environmental sustainability goals.

Improving efficiency in the food system and environmental conservation through agricultural biodiversity in Busia County

Authors:Aurillia Manjella1Victor Wasike2, Teresa Borelli3, Danny Hunter3,4
 Author Affiliations: 1Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project, Bioversity International, Kenya; 2Genetic Resources Research Centre, Nairobi, Kenya; 3Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems Initiative, Bioversity International, Italy; 4Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Australia

Background: Despite the abundance of edible biodiversity, both wild and cultivated, malnutrition and food insecurity persist in Busia, Kenya, where poverty indices range from 63% to 74% and 1 in 4 children under five are stunted, 11% are underweight and 4% are thin for age. Much of this diversity, used in traditional food preparations, has potential to provide access to key micronutrients for healthy and balanced diets as well as act as an important source of community resilience to climate change and economic turbulence. Yet, lack of consumer awareness of the value of local biodiversity, poorly developed value chains and negative perceptions associated with traditional foods have led to the disappearance of many nutrient-rich species and the shift to unhealthy diets. The study shows that heightened knowledge of the value of biodiversity and improved value chain efficiencies can help to conserve biodiversity and improve local food systems.

Methods: A farmer business school model was developed and training provided to 25 farmer groups across 7 sub-counties on the sustainable production of traditional vegetables, post-harvest handling, contract farming, nutrition and value addition. At the same time, select species were analyzed for nutritional content, a food procurement model was tested supporting market linkages between farmers and local institutions and nutrition education activities carried out to improve the capacity of schools and clinics to incorporate traditional foods in institutional meals.

Findings: Traditional vegetables are rich in iron, with cowpea leaves, for example, found to contain 17 times more iron than kales. Since the data was made available to all value chain actors and the food procurement model was implemented, a 12% increase was recorded in the number of households cultivating local biodiversity both for household consumption and off-farm sales, along with an increase in the plot size devoted to traditional vegetable cultivation. Furthermore, household incomes rose by 47% as a result of direct links with institutional markets.

Interpretation: The project has positively impacted the abundance, composition and distribution of species and revived interest in local food biodiversity, in addition to producing benefits around diverse diets. Experience in implementing the Busia model was used to inform global policy mechanisms that aim to mainstream biodiversity into sustainable food systems using public procurement, particularly schools, as a platform for improving nutrition. Nationally, a Biodiversity Policy is being developed for Busia that recognizes the importance of local biodiversity, including for improved livelihoods, community resilience and health and nutrition.

Application of the Dietary Environmental Index in USDA food patterns: a comparison of observed and recommended dietary patterns

Authors: Naglaa El-Abbadi1,2Miriam E. Nelson3, Timothy S. Griffin4Christian J. Peters4, Nicole E. Tichenor3, Paul F. Jacques1,2
Author Affiliations: 1Nutritional Epidemiology Program Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging; 2Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Tufts University; 3Sustainability Institute, University of New Hampshire; 4Agriculture, Food, and the Environment Program Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Background: Identifying and promoting dietary patterns that enhance overall diet quality and health outcomes within ecologically viable parameters is crucial for dietary sustainability and food security. Future dietary recommendations must place nutritional health in the context of environmental effects, but we lack methods for aligning health and sustainability concerns in our dietary choices. In answer to this, we previously developed the Dietary Environmental Index (DEX) to quantify the association between the environmental impacts and nutritional value of a wide range of foods consumed in the U.S., and in this study have applied the DEX to examine overall dietary patterns.

Methods: We scored approximately 1200 commonly consumed foods reported in the 2007-08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) using the Nutrient Rich Foods index (NRF) 9.3. The resultant nutrient density value was divided by an aggregate environmental impact score (EIS) composed of 4 life cycle assessment (LCA) indicators representing land and water resource use, eutrophication, and greenhouse gas emissions, to compute the DEX value of each food product. For the current investigation, DEX was calculated for the three USDA food patterns promoted by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the Healthy U.S., Mediterranean, and Vegetarian food patterns, based on daily meal plans, and for a typical American diet based on NHANES dietary intake data.

Findings: DEX scores of isocaloric daily sample menus for the 3 USDA food patterns varied depending on foods selected. Preliminary results when foods representative of typical consumption in the United States were assessed showed more favorable DEX scores for a Vegetarian diet, and less favorable for a more traditional U.S. omnivorous diet, with a Mediterranean diet positioned between. However, menus that instead prioritized recommended and healthier food choices shifted DEX scores, and resulted in the 3 dietary patterns scoring similarly.

Interpretation: This study will provide insight on how observed and recommended dietary patterns fare in aligning diet quality and sustainability, and highlights the importance of considering the relative nutrition-to-environmental impact of food choices for overall diet sustainability.

Disentangling determinants of insecticide use to manage production, food security, and health risks: Evidence from household survey and risk assessment experiments in Cambodia and Vietnam

Authors: Wei Zhang1, Yanyan Liu1, Andrew Bell2
Author Affiliations: 1International Food Policy Research Institute; 2New York University

Insect pest problems are among the main causes of crop yield losses in global agriculture. Insecticides are a risk-mitigating input that shields households from food security and income shocks, but they induce well-documented human health and environmental risks. Using field data collected from household survey and risk assessment experiments in 2014 in Cambodia and Vietnam, we disentangle the determinants of insecticide use by semi-subsistence farm households (SSFHs) and identify whether health consideration has had any influence on insecticide use. Farming for both consumption and sale, SSFHs make crop management and output allocation decisions to maximize utility that consists of food consumption, income, and health, given risk preferences and other household and community characteristics. Improved understanding of these issues is essential to inform policies that tackle multiple sustainable development objectives cutting across poverty reduction, food security, health, and the environment. Prior studies that address the health effects of insecticide use have focused on poisoning experienced by farmers. We extend the scope of previous studies by considering all possible impact channels in the private health risk domain: 1) exposure to contaminated products by family members, 2) exposure to chemicals by farmers, and 3) exposure to ambient drifting chemicals by family members and people in proximity.

Our econometric analysis identifies both push and deterring factors at household, plot, and crop levels in dictating insecticide use decisions. A more challenging question is which of those deterring factors are motivated by health consideration. Our initial findings are: 1) Crops (except for rice) whose outputs are used to a greater degree for consumption are less likely to be sprayed or sprayed fewer times. While it is possible that health consideration may have a role discouraging spray given the confounding factors controlled for, we cannot be certain about a direct causal linkage because of the complexity in SSFH decision-making. 2) Health-conscious households (as indicated by the adoption of modern-fuel cooking stove and reported concern over food safety) consistently refrain from spraying, but this tendency diminishes as outputs shifting toward commercial use, suggesting a possible moral hazard phenomenon. 3) Farmers are more likely to apply insecticides on crops of high food security or diet importance, such as rice, although the difference between fresh produce and grain produce in insecticide residue exposure risk might also play a role. 4) The two samples from Cambodia and Vietnam reveal similarities and differences, suggesting the importance of addressing specific contexts.

Animal to plant-sourced food shifts as a key climate change mitigation strategy

Author: Helen Harwatt1
Author Affiliation: 1Planet Friendly Food

Background: Current commitments to the Paris Agreement are consistent with up to a 3.7°C rise this century. If current commitments to the Paris Agreement are implemented, by 2030 the emissions budget for 1.5°C will be depleted and the budget consistent with staying below 2°C will be almost exceeded. For the Paris Agreement to remain achievable, strong and rapid pre-2020 and pre-2030 mitigation is urgently required, in addition to enhanced longer term commitments. Given the expected growth of methane (CH4) emissions over this time frame, and its intense warming potential, it is imperative to consider CH4 reductions in addition to other major greenhouse gases (GHGs). The main source of global CH4 emissions, the livestock sector, has so far laid relatively low in climate discourse, with CO2 emissions from the fossil fuel sector receiving most attention regarding mitigation requirements and measures. This research demonstrates the necessity of also adopting near term mitigation options in the livestock sector, via animal to plant-sourced food shifts, to deliver the best chance of meeting the Paris Agreement.

Methods: A review of the literature regarding climate change mitigation targets, the role of CH4 in reducing the risk of temperature tipping points, and the contribution of animal agriculture was conducted. Estimates of the types and scale of benefits delivered by a range of animal to plant-sourced food shifts were derived. A potential implementation pathway for animal to plant-sourced food shifts was identified.

Findings: Animal to plant-sourced food shifts can make a key contribution to achieving the Paris Agreement, and deliver important co-benefits related to environmental sustainability, food security, public health and biodiversity. Inaction on implementing animal to plant-sourced food shifts could result in almost half of the GHG budget for 2030 being taken for animal agriculture, not counting growth related to demand shifts in developing economies. There are options that can be implemented over a relatively short time frame and deliver substantial GHG reductions and co-benefits, while shaping the way for further animal to plant-sourced food shifts. While the implementation pathway was set out at the sectoral, global level, the principles can also be applied at the level of individual country, state, business, or consumer.

Interpretation: Animal to plant-sourced food shifts can play a key role in climate change mitigation and simultaneously contribute to other planetary health goals. There are identifiable pathways that deliver substantial benefits in the near term, applicable to policy makers, business and publics.

Development of the Food Composition Tables for Pacific Islands Household Income and Expenditure Surveys

Authors: Joanna Russell1, Yasmine Probst2, Karen Charlton2
Author Affiliations: 1School of Health & Society, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong; 2School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, University of Wollongong

Background: In recent times, the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have been going through the nutrition transition with dietary patterns rapidly changing from traditional diets towards diets that include imported processed foods, often high in fat, sugar and salt. The current Pacific Islands Food Composition Tables, 2nd Edition (PIFCT) were published in 2004 and do not include imported foods that are increasingly being consumed.
The aim of this project was to develop a revised database with updated nutrient composition data and expand the number of commonly consumed foods in order to be aligned more closely to current diets within the Pacific Region. A second criterion is for the database to be applied to the analysis of food data collected as part of the Household Income & Expenditure Surveys (HIES) routinely conducted in PICTs.

Methods: Food items included in the database, the Food Composition Tables for Pacific Island Household Income and Expenditure Surveys, were selected based on the frequency of acquisition reported in PICT’s existing HIES surveys. To provide connection between the HIES datasets and the revised database, food items were categorised according to the Classification of Individual consumption according to Purpose (COICOP) codes.
The database provides 23 nutrients for each food item in addition to edible portion conversion factors. Nutrient profiles of food items are underpinned by the PIFCT but, to provide current nutrient data and edible portions, data were imputed from international tables of different countries and regions to allow complete nutrient datasets. International tables were selected based on their regional relevance, validity of data and whether the data are up to date. Once all nutrient profiles had been sourced, the quality was confirmed by summing the proximate values. Food items were included if they fell within ±10% of energy.

Results: The database is currently being pilot tested using data from the two week food diary collected as part of the Federated States of Micronesia’s 2013 Household Income and Expenditure Survey with results expected to be reported early in 2018.

Interpretation: The food composition data in this database can be used in a variety of ways including dietary comparisons between various PICTs, as well as monitor trends over time within these countries.

Non-domesticated animal-source food consumption in Timor-Leste

Authors: Johanna Wong1Brigitte Bagnol2,3, Karen Charlton2, Heather Grieve4, Joanita Jong5Mu Li6, Robyn Alders1,3
Author Affiliations: 1School of Veterinary Science, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney; 2Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; 3International Rural Poultry Centre, Kyeema Foundation, Brisbane Australia and Maputo, Mozambique;4Independent nutrition consultant, Dili, Timor-Leste; 5Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dili, Timor-Leste; 6School of Public Health, University of Sydney

Prior to modern agriculture, humans obtained food by hunting, gathering and fishing, leading nomadic lifestyles to ensure sustainable land and water use. Today, to feed our current population, modern food systems have expanded to encroach on much of the world’s wild reserves, leaving ever smaller regions where much of the world’s biodiversity is concentrated. Utilisation of non-domesticated animal-source foods (ASF) is controversial, as while it can make valuable contributions to human nutritional intake, it also threatens biodiversity if hunting levels exceed reproductive capacity.

In some rural areas in Timor-Leste, villagers supplement their diets with non-domesticated plant- and animal-source foods, however little information exists regarding the frequency, seasonality and animal species utilised. A longitudinal, mixed-methods study collected data from three rural villages in Timor-Leste participating in a pilot Newcastle disease vaccination program for village chickens. Households were selected for participation in the study if they had one child under two years at enrolment, and mothers and children followed longitudinally. Quantitative data was collected across the three agricultural seasons (dry, heavy rain and light rain), and include maternal and child dietary diversity data based on a 24-hour recall period, anthropometric measurements, and hemoglobin measurements.

Qualitative data collection was performed annually through key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Key informants include village and sub-village chiefs, cultural leaders, local and municipal health and agricultural staff. Gender-disaggregated focus group discussions, involving both young and old members of the community and direct observation of household practices were also included in the suite of research tools.

Qualitative methods were used to create lists of non-domesticated plant and animal foods available, discuss seasonality, and triangulate with quantitative data on seasonal food consumption. Together, they show that local laws and accessibility of forested areas heavily influences the practice of hunting, with the majority of participants in one village stating that they do not hunt in that village due to local laws and lack of forested areas, and with no recorded consumption of non-domesticated ASF. This compares to a distant village close to forested areas with no local laws forbidding hunting, in which low numbers of households consumed non-domesticated ASF in every season. Participants most commonly reported the consumption of “wild birds”, which include jungle fowl, pigeon, and turtledove, and was the most commonly consumed non-domesticated ASF for children. Ongoing analysis will provide new information is important in understanding the roles of wild areas on human diets and nutrition.

Disentangling determinants of insecticide use to manage production, food security, and health risks: Evidence from household survey and risk assessment experiments in Cambodia and Vietnam

Authors: Wei Zhang1Yanyan Liu1, Andrew Bell2
Author Affiliations: 1International Food Policy Research Institute2New York University 

Insect pest problems are among the main causes of crop yield losses in global agriculture. Insecticides are a risk-mitigating input that shields households from food security and income shocks, but they induce well-documented human health and environmental risks. Using field data collected from household survey and risk assessment experiments in 2014 in Cambodia and Vietnam, we disentangle the determinants of insecticide use by semi-subsistence farm households (SSFHs) and identify whether health consideration has had any influence on insecticide use. Farming for both consumption and sale, SSFHs make crop management and output allocation decisions to maximize utility that consists of food consumption, income, and health, given risk preferences and other household and community characteristics. Improved understanding of these issues is essential to inform policies that tackle multiple sustainable development objectives cutting across poverty reduction, food security, health, and the environment. Prior studies that address the health effects of insecticide use have focused on poisoning experienced by farmers. We extend the scope of previous studies by considering all possible impact channels in the private health risk domain: 1) exposure to contaminated products by family members, 2) exposure to chemicals by farmers, and 3) exposure to ambient drifting chemicals by family members and people in proximity.

Our econometric analysis identifies both push and deterring factors at household, plot, and crop levels in dictating insecticide use decisions. A more challenging question is which of those deterring factors are motivated by health consideration. Our initial findings are: 1) Crops (except for rice) whose outputs are used to a greater degree for consumption are less likely to be sprayed or sprayed fewer times. While it is possible that health consideration may have a role discouraging spray given the confounding factors controlled for, we cannot be certain about a direct causal linkage because of the complexity in SSFH decision-making. 2) Health-conscious households (as indicated by the adoption of modern-fuel cooking stove and reported concern over food safety) consistently refrain from spraying, but this tendency diminishes as outputs shifting toward commercial use, suggesting a possible moral hazard phenomenon. 3) Farmers are more likely to apply insecticides on crops of high food security or diet importance, such as rice, although the difference between fresh produce and grain produce in insecticide residue exposure risk might also play a role. 4) The two samples from Cambodia and Vietnam reveal similarities and differences, suggesting the importance of addressing specific contexts.

Environmental and economic trade-offs of milk production systems

Authors: Margaret March1David Roberts1, Pater Alexander2
Author Affiliations: 1SRUC; 2University of Edinburgh

Background
One pathway towards sustainable food systems is to increase agricultural efficiency through changes in production methods. Current systems of milk production are responsible for approximately 2.7% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and can generate nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses which lead to environmental impacts such as water pollution and soil acidification. Dairy systems could contribute towards a circular bio-economy by yielding nutritious proteins from diets inedible to humans and then returning nutrients to the earth. However, impacts and trade-offs of alternative agricultural regimes need to be understood by including the economic viability of alternative agricultural systems. This work considers how Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the analysis of trade-offs can be applied to the agricultural sustainability debate with a focus on impacts originating from dairy farming.

Methods
LCA has the capability of evaluating effects associated with inputs and outputs related to production. The process follows a specific methodical framework consisting of four phases from scope and boundary setting to inventory analysis and impact assessment. Impact categories such as climate change or nutrient use are determined by indicators which originate from resource use or other inputs into the system and followed by outputs leaving the farm. This study compares production, economic, animal health, environmental and resource use indicators stemming from herds of high and average genetic merit Holstein Friesian cows within four traditional and novel feeding systems. Trade-offs are assessed using a multi-criteria decision approach.

Findings
Perspective and weighting preference alters the ranking of the eight dairy systems considered, and results highlight trade-offs within and between impact category types. Indicator trade-offs are found between surpluses of phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon footprints. For example, trade-offs can be found between economic and environment, as a low carbon system produced lower quality milk which then incurred financial penalties and reduced farm income.

Interpretation
Results highlight that climate change should not be the sole driver of strategies to improve the environmental performance of agricultural systems and attributes of the commodity produced should be considered alongside other indicators if income is based on product quality. Units of measurement and weighting preferences can alter system performance perceptions and care should be made when making comparisons of methods of milk production as trade-offs need to be considered.

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