By Juliane Caillouette-Noble, SRA Head of Development

“The Food Sustainability Index is a call to action, and an opportunity,” began Adam Green from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), when launching the brand new report at the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Annual Forum for Food and Nutrition last week in Milan. “It can be a tool to drive informed policy, investment & action; a diagnostic tool, planning tool and monitoring tool.”

The Food Sustainability Index

The Food Sustainability Index is a chunky report with research developed and analysed by the EIU. It was commissioned by the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition as a study to explore the complex relationship between food and scientific, economic, social and environmental factors in a number of locations around the world. The report looked at information available from 25 countries: the G20 (Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, USA, India, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, The UK, China, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan) plus Egypt, Ethiopia, Colombia, Nigeria, and the UAE to get a comprehensive data driven view of food systems around the world; ranking them in three key areas: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges. Pulling this picture together for the first time is key to understanding where the core sustainability challenges lie, helping policy makers understand good practice, and to learn from bad practice to create systems that work better for our plates, our people and our planet.

Leaders and laggards

The overall leaders in the field, when looking across factors, were France, Japan and Canada, with France standing out as a particularly strong example, topping the charts both with its innovative response to food waste and the balanced diet of its population.

Drilling down by category:

Food loss and waste explored the raw amount of food lost within the supply chain, the policy response to food loss, and both the causes and solutions present for distribution level food waste. In addition this was looked at together with waste at the end-user level (household or restaurant food waste) and policies in place to combat that. The leaders were: 

  1. France
  2. Australia
  3. South Africa

Perhaps unsurprisingly it was the USA, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the highest levels of waste per capita.

Sustainable agriculture looked broadly at water use and land use in production around the world. This addressed things like the environmental impact of agriculture on water supply, water scarcity and management, and the sustainability of water withdrawal methods as well as the impact of agriculture on land, land ownership use and management and the impact on the land specifically of animal feed and biofuels. The leaders were:

  1. Germany
  2. Canada
  3. Japan

Nutritional challenges perhaps the ranking that we have become most familiar with reading, the nutrition section of the report looked at life expectancy, life quality and dietary patterns. It assessed both deficiencies and hunger as well as the prevalence of obesity and costs of healthcare spending due to diet related diseases. The top three may well not come as a surprise. They were:

  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. South Korea

While South Africa, Nigeria and India all face ongoing and significant nutritional challenges, drilling down on the data around obesity again had the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the USA at the top/bottom of the charts per capita.

So what can be learned?

The report is filled with data to explore, which no doubt over the coming years will lead to analysis and policy ideas based on successes and failures around the world. One thing is clear, the issues that face our food system are global, and we need to work together to address them. Solutions exist, but often operate in silos. So now is the time for greater transparency and greater collaboration.

And of course, the final take away… do as the French do…. whatever that might be!