'Make the food system regenerative, sustainable and healthier'

23 January 2024 Consultancy-me.com 4 min. read

The interconnected issues of bad health and environmental damage that stem from today’s food system comes with a huge price tag. According to a new report by Kearney, the situation calls for a more globally-holistic approach, and a new mission – one that focuses on feeding the world by regenerating human and ecosystem health.

The four leading causes of death worldwide today – stroke, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease – are all linked to diet. With food systems greatly contributing to (and being gravely affected by) climate change, the intersection of individual health and planetary health is coming more into focus.

“Food and health systems are inexorably linked. Today, too many of the dynamics between these systems incentivize poor human and ecosystem health, costing the public and private sectors trillions in hidden costs,” said Rhiannon Thomas, global lead of the Consumer & Retail practice of Kearney.

'Make the food system regenerative, sustainable and healthier'

“While a scaled transformation to a healthy, regenerative food system is costly, the costs of inaction are higher. By working across intertwined systems, we can overcome the functional stalemate in funding to deliver on a 21st-century food system mission: feeding the world by regenerating human and ecosystem health.”

According to the study by Kearney, a global strategic consulting firm, a majority of consumers (60%) said they are not really sure how to eat sustainably. That indicates confusion surrounding the marketing of sustainable products, with loads of ‘greenwashing’ causing significant distrust and uncertainty.

Consumers generally report that they are not interested in paying more for sustainable products. Far less so if they cannot even be sure that those products really are good for the environment in some way. Further, consumers are not sold on ‘net-positive’ products – they mostly only expect sustainable products to be a ‘lesser evil’.

The cost of inaction

The report notes that if these issues are not addressed, the costs could be astronomical. The costs related to health and obesity issues could end up costing a remarkable $4.3 trillion globally, while hidden environmental and socioeconomic damage could reach $16.3 trillion.

'Make the food system regenerative, sustainable and healthier'

Meanwhile, since 2000, over 4 billion people worldwide have been affected by climate disasters, which have caused around $3 trillion in economic losses.

The survey showed that a resounding 83% of respondents were sure that they knew how to eat in a way that was good for their physical health. Yet, when asked to rank foods according to how healthy they are, only 29% reported being confident in their ranking.

Regenerative farming

Regenerative farming may be the solution to both of these intertwined problems. A regenerative food system is one that can help restore degraded ecosystems, reduce carbon emissions, foster biodiversity, and keep soil healthy and water clean.

Bringing together health and food divisions in businesses to support regenerative farming in the supply chain can lead to healthier agricultural products. This approach not only helps farmers overcome transition risks, but can also align with market preferences, where consumers prioritize both taste and health when making purchasing decisions.

Overall, the report calls for investment in regenerative food systems at scale. This imperative is supported by the idea that “food is medicine” and, for that reason, health issues can be solved alongside food systems issues.

“Too often, we frame global challenges as technology innovation gaps, and spend huge money, time, and energy investing in technology solutions for short-term symptoms without addressing root causes,” said Angela Hultberg, Global Sustainability Director at Kearney.

“Instead, we must innovate incentives, technologies, business models, and policies that embrace our fundamental dependence on natural ecosystems – soil, water, microbes, climate – all of which can be supported by a regenerative food system.”