The impact of food on people’s health and care for the environment is the focus of the debates at the II Food, Health, and Sustainability Symposium held in Barcelona. Renowned experts have analyzed the current situation and future challenges toward more sustainable food consumption that preserves the environment and the planet. Most health professionals consider it relevant to take into account social impact factors related to food production.
Public health experts and national and international researchers from various fields of knowledge have come together to talk about the impact on people’s health and care for the environment at the II Food, Health, and Sustainability Symposium that closed yesterday Thursday in the Aula Magna of the Historical Building of the University of Barcelona. The event has had the participation of nearly 700 attendees, who have followed the forum in person or virtually.
Doctors, pharmacists, dietitians-nutritionists, anthropologists, sociologists, and economists, as well as technicians from different local, national, and European administrations, have debated for two days about the current situation in terms of food, health, and sustainability and have analyzed future challenges towards consumption of healthier foods that preserve the care of the environment and the planet.
This forum has been the framework for presenting the preliminary results of the “Sustainability Survey: knowledge, habits, and Degree of Awareness”. Led by Ujué Fresán, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), the objective of this work is to find out the attitude of health professionals towards the social and environmental impact of the population’s diet and nutrition.
The study, whose definitive results will be announced in June, reveals that 21.8% of health professionals admit that they have never heard of the concept of sustainable food or diet and reveals the perception of 72% of respondents that they should receive information on the environmental impact of food and diet to transfer correct habits to their users and patients. Most consider it relevant to take into account social impact factors related to food production when making dietary recommendations for disease prevention.
Carlos Gonzalez Svatetz, the emeritus researcher at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, has highlighted the “serious and contradictory” consequences of the current food system, which worldwide generates 800 million people with malnutrition, while there are some 1,900 Million obese and overweight. The expert has warned that “a diet based on a predominance of foods of animal origin and a deficit of foods of plant origin is one of the main causes of chronic diseases which, at the same time, are one of the causes of environmental deterioration and climate change”.
A diet based on a predominance of foods of animal origin and a deficit of foods of vegetable origin is one of the main causes of chronic diseases which, at the same time, is one of the causes of environmental deterioration and climate change.
Regarding food systems and biodiversity loss, Helen Harwart, a researcher at Chatham House Food and climate policy fellow at Harward University, has warned that “over the last 50 years, the conversion of natural ecosystems for crop production or grasses has been the main cause of habitat loss, where the global rate of extinction of species today is much higher than the average rate of the last 10 million years.
For the expert, the reform of the current food system should go through promoting more plant-based diets, due to the disproportionate impact of animal husbandry on biodiversity, land use, and the environment; protecting and reserving more land for nature than for agriculture; and farm in a way that is more respectful of nature and biodiversity, replacing monoculture with polyculture agricultural practices.
On institutions as a lever for change, Maria José Yusta, head of the service of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition, explained the initiatives that are being carried out in our country, such as the “farm” strategy to the table” for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system.
Some of the measures proposed in this action plan are the promotion of reformulation (including the setting of maximum levels for certain nutrients); the establishment of nutritional criteria to restrict the promotion of foods with high salt, sugar, or fat content; establishing mandatory minimum criteria for the acquisition of food in schools and public institutions to promote healthy and sustainable diets; and participation in the development of harmonized mandatory front-of-pack labeling to facilitate healthier choices.
The forum highlighted the “great concern” that exists about whether the current food system will be able to provide enough healthy food for 10,000 million people in 2050. In this sense, Jesús Simal Gandara, professor of Food Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Vigo, has indicated that it is possible to feed this population, but “the food system requires major transformations to promote sustainability, reduce food waste and stimulate a change towards healthy diets for humans and also sustainable for the planet”.
In his presentation, this expert explained that “some of the problems detected in the production and consumption of food are the destruction of terrestrial ecosystems, overfishing or the generation of large amounts of waste.” According to the professor, “some solutions involve implementing agroecology, improving aquaculture production as well as promoting education on healthy and sustainable lifestyles to ensure the subsistence of present and future generations.”
Some solutions involve implementing agroecology, improving aquaculture production as well as promoting education on healthy and sustainable lifestyles to ensure the subsistence of present and future generations.
Regarding the knowledge and attitudes of the Spanish population regarding food sustainability, Ángela García González, from the Department of Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences of the San Pablo University – CEU (Madrid), has pointed out that the results of a project carried out show the “need to inform the population about the sustainability of the components of their diet, as well as the motivation for the changes of the youngest”. On the contrary, the study states that “women, who often continue to be in charge of buying and cooking in the family today, are the most motivated to change their habits, which makes them one of the main engines to advance towards the generalization of dietary habits that help preserve the health of people and the planet”.
For her part, Assumpció Anton Vallejo, researcher and head of the environmental quantification team at the Institute for Agro-Food Research and Technology of Barcelona, congratulated herself on “the positive aspects of human progress”, particularly in the agri-food sector where “we We are facing technological advances that have undoubtedly contributed positively to the challenge of correctly feeding a growing population, and the increasing concern of consumers and industry for environmental issues.
On the contrary, it has denounced that despite these advances, “food production implies in many cases negative consequences on the environment”, and has warned that “food appears as the first cause of disease and premature death in humans, both in developing countries, due to food deficiencies, or developed countries, due to food excesses”.
Regarding the losses, waste, and environmental pressures of food consumption in Spain, Mónica Di Donato, researcher, and economist in the GEEDS research group of the University of Valladolid has analyzed the behavior of households based on a study that analyzes the viability and sustainability of certain consumption models, emphasizing the impacts that this consumption generates in terms of residues or waste.
In the II Food, Health and Sustainability Symposium, success stories of companies that have contributed great innovations through their commitment to the planet have also been exposed, as is the case of Too Good To Go, the largest app against food waste in the world, or the Fundació Espigoladors, a social enterprise that promotes the use of food in a transforming, inclusive, participatory and sustainable way.
At the closing ceremony of the event, carried out by Carmen Vidal and Jordi Salas-Salvadó, professors of Nutrition and Bromatology at the Universities of Barcelona and Rovira I Virgili, respectively, the proposals for Sustainable Food were presented:
- Become aware of the environmental impact of different foods, from their production to their consumption.
- Take an interest in knowing if the commercial and labor relations associated with the food you eat are fair.
- Base your diet on healthy and environmentally friendly foods.
- Moderate the consumption of products of animal origin in favor of those of plant origin.
- Give preference to fresh and seasonal foods, obtained directly from the producer or through short supply chains.
- Prepare recipes with varieties of native foods, thus conserving biodiversity.
- Reduce food waste both at home and outside.
- Avoid packaging, especially those made of plastic or other materials that are not respectful of the environment, and promote recycling.
- Make your environment (family, friends, acquaintances) aware of the importance of following healthy diets with low environmental impact.
- Demands food policies that favor the accessibility and affordability of healthy and sustainable food