A coordinated response to the interrelated crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and diet-related diseases will require systems thinking and system thinking. This was what a panel composed of scientists, farmers and advocates told Congress Wednesday.
“Our current food system is savagely broken,” said Sen. Cory Booker, who co-hosted the briefing. “It’s broken for family farmers. It’s broken for food system workers. It’s broken for rural communities, and it’s broken for our planet.”
Booker stated that half a billion Americans are killed each year by poor nutrition. The most affected are those who have low incomes, rural residents, as well as members of racial, ethnic, and other minority groups. The food system is responsible for about a third global greenhouse gas emissions. It is also responsible for biodiversity loss, which has been linked to up to 80% of the species extinctions recorded to date, according the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Against that backdrop, Booker said, “Generating cutting-edge science at the intersection of nutrition and sustainability is a critical priority for the nation.”
This field — called sustainable nutrition science — is severely underfunded, said Sarah Reinhardt, a senior analyst for food systems and health at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Between 2016 and 2019, the federal government spent just $16 million per year on sustainable nutrition science, according to a recent report she authored. This is less than 25 cents per $1,000 spent on research.
The report recommended that the minimum annual funding for sustainable nutrition science should be increased by at least $50,000,000 annually. But Reinhardt said there are “heartening” signs that the USDA and other federal agencies are moving from a siloed approach that addresses issues like nutrition, food production, and the environment separately to a more systematic approach.
One example is a USDA program to boost research into sustainable agriculture systems. Brandy E.. Phillips, a professor in food, nutrition, health at Central State University, Ohio, was awarded funding through the program last fiscal year to support a project exploring hemp as an alternative feedstock for aquaculture. The project aims to find more sustainable methods to produce nutritious food and promote equity. The College of Menominee Nation, a historically Black university in Wisconsin, will partner with Central State to develop the project. This will allow Native American and African American students to be trained in agricultural fields that are underrepresented, while also promoting tribal food sovereignty. “Our team had a vision addressing multiple components of the value chain system, from the environment to producers to consumers,” Phipps said.
Projects like these are “a bull’s-eye for sustainable nutrition science,” Reinhardt said. She stressed the need to establish programs and funding mechanisms that will allow for more of this long-term research. “The bottom line is that the public health burdens of diet-related disease, climate impacts, and associated health disparities are not going away anytime soon,” she said. “In fact, they’re likely to get worse and cost us more if we don’t have a coordinated strategy and approach to research that can help us address them simultaneously.”
Source: Successful Farming