Because of its strict zero food waste policies, sustainable agricultural practices, and the healthy eating habits of its people, France has retained the top spot in the Food Sustainability Index, a study of 34 countries by The Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation.
The index examines how well countries advocate for and enact food waste policies, how well resources are used, and how health indicators perform throughout a population.
"Sustainable food systems are vital in achieving the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” Martin Koehring, managing editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “Major global developments such as climate change, rapid urbanisation, tourism, migration flows and the shift towards Westernised diets put food systems under pressure.”
Take Action: Call on the EU to Halve Food Waste by 2030
In recent years, France has emerged as a model of food sustainability. In 2015, they became the first country to ban edible food waste from supermarkets, forcing stores to instead donate food to charities. On the production side of things, French farmers are adapting to climate change, and the government is promoting the growth of forests, which are vital for maintaining soil quality and water integrity.
When it comes to consumption, France has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world.
Ultimately, the FSI is hoping to spur other countries to adopt policies and practices found in France.
“The Food Sustainability Index is an important tool to help policymakers and other relevant stakeholders to design effective policies to improve food system sustainability,” he added.
One pattern throughout the index is that countries with rapid urbanization rates tend to have low levels of food sustainability. This could be because cities have high levels of food waste and often contribute to environmental degradation.
For instance, the second worst ranking country was India, which has experienced massive urbanization in recent years. India was primarily knocked for its terrible resource management and high levels of malnutrition.
The US, meanwhile, came in 24th place for its reliance on industrial, environmentally harmful agricultural practices and the unhealthy eating habits of its people. The worst performing country was the United Arab Emirates for its enormous levels of food waste, resource depletion, and prevalence of unhealthy eating habits.
Other countries that performed well include Japan, Germany, Spain and Sweden. Ethiopia came in 12th place despite being having high rates of malnutrition, owing to its sustainable agricultural practices and low food waste levels.
Globally, the issue of food sustainability has gained popularity for a number of reasons, the index argues.
First, the inefficiency of food systems has come under scrutiny. All the food waste in the world, for instance, could be used to end world hunger if it was better managed. Last year, global hunger rose for the first time in a decade to 815 million people, according to Reuters.
Second, the environmental toll of food production has become more apparent. Globally, soil quality is degrading from industrial agriculture and water sources are drying up and being polluted, two developments that threaten food security in the decades ahead.
Third, the explosion of obesity around the world has caused medical professionals to reassess eating habits.
Global Citizen campaigns on improving food security and ending food waste and you can take action on this issue here.
By 2100, the global population could reach 11.2 billion and climate change is projected to instigate devastating environmental changes throughout the world.
Making sure everyone has enough to eat in that scenario seems daunting. But if reforms are made today, then there’ll be more than enough food to go around.