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New Ellen MacArthur Foundation report finds unhealthy food production makes healthy eating impossible

January 24, 2019

The Foundation's latest report 'Cities and Circular Economy for Food' finds:

  • Air pollution, water contamination, pesticide exposure, and excessive use of antibiotics and fertilisers are making healthy eating impossible for people around the world
  • By 2050, five million people per year could die due to industrial food production factors – twice the current number of people killed by obesity and four times the number of people killed in road traffic crashes globally
  • A circular economy redesign for the food industry would mean food is grown in a way that regenerates natural resources and locally where relevant; waste is eliminated through better redistribution and by-product use; and healthy food is produced without the need for harmful practices
  • 80% of food will be consumed in cities by 2050, meaning they hold the key to creating a healthy food system.

Hidden killers caused by food production are making healthy eating impossible for people around the world, according to Cities and Circular Economy for Food. The latest report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, produced with analytical support from SYSTEMIQ, was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Swizerland.
It finds that excessive use of pesticides, antibiotics in livestock farming, and poor management of fertilisers could lead to 5 million deaths a year globally by 2050, twice the current number of deaths caused by obesity, and four times the number due to road traffic crashes.

The report highlights the enormous environmental damage caused by food production. Synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and mismanaged manure exacerbate air pollution and contaminate soils and water. Food production is currently responsible for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even when trying to make healthy food choices, consumers are at risk because of the way food has been produced.

The way we produce food today is not only extremely wasteful and damaging to the environment, it is causing serious health problems. It cannot continue in the long term. We urgently need to redesign the system. People around the world need food that is nutritious, and that is grown, produced and delivered in a way that benefits their health, the environment and the economy.

- Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

To ensure people around the globe can eat healthily, there is a need to not only consider what we eat, but how it is produced. The Foundation sets out a vision for a new system based on circular economy principles, where food is grown locally and in a way that regenerates natural resources, waste is eliminated through better redistribution and by-product use, and healthy food is produced without the need for harmful practices.

The report finds that eliminating waste and improving health through the circular economy could be worth USD 2.7 trillion a year to the global economy. Health costs caused by pesticide use would decrease by USD 550 billion a year, and antimicrobial resistance, air pollution, water contamination, and food-borne diseases would reduce significantly. Greenhouse gas emissions would be expected to decrease by 4.3 Gt CO2e, the equivalent of taking one billion cars off the road permanently. The degradation of 15 million hectares of arable land would be prevented and 450 trillion litres of fresh water saved annually.

Cities are key to this food revolution. By 2050 they will consume 80% of food, giving them the power to drive the shift to this healthy system. Cities themselves can unlock USD 700 billion a year by using organic materials to help produce new food and products, and by reducing edible food waste.

The report was made possible by philanthropic partners Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, players of People’s Postcode Lottery (GB) and Porticus, in collaboration with lead partners Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center, and core partners Danone, Sitra, Suez, Tetra Pak and Veolia. Cities and Circular Economy for Food is an affiliate project of the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE).
The report was produced as part of Project Mainstream, a CEO-led global initiative created by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum, which helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

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