Circular Economy, Sustainable diets

A circular economy for a better food system?

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Could the Covid-19 pandemic accelerate the circular economy? In a recent article on Medium the Ellen MacArthur Foundation argue that the crisis has created the perfect environment to promote a circular economy, in order to build an even more resilient food supply chain for the future.

“The Covid-19 virus has triggered a global health pandemic leading to economic recession and major disruptions of the global food system. While the pandemic has laid bare the existing challenges of the agriculture system, exposing people to disruption and hunger, it has also unveiled the extraordinary resilience of certain communities, reinforcing that food is unlike any other commodity. Whilst preventing a potential hunger crisis requires coordinated and urgent actions, a longer-term proposition emerges: a circular economy for food that offers greater resilience for society and the economy in the face of future shocks, including health and climate risks.”

The huge impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and the lockdown measures imposed by national governments have had unprecedented consequences for the global economy with entire sectors almost completely halted. The construction, automotive, and travel industries have faced levels of financial losses never experienced before. Comparatively, the agriculture and grocery retail sectors have weathered the crisis better as people have prioritised spending on food. A number of companies have even seen their revenues increase — as demonstrated by the Swiss food giant Nestlé, which reported in March its best quarterly sales growth in nearly five years — as people have reallocated disposable income usually spent on out-of-home experiences.

“However, a more nuanced picture has emerged as it has become clear that food supply chains have been hugely disrupted by the sudden slump in demand from professional kitchens due to the closure of restaurants, hotels, workplaces and schools. For farmers and meat producers unable to shift sales to retailers or losing profit margins where they have been able to, this has led to significant financial losses and increased food waste. In the US, notably, we have seen growers destroying their crops, dairy farmers throwing milk away, and the culling of unsold animals, all while lines outside food banks, often of the newly unemployed, have lengthened. At the retail end of the supply chain, consumers have experienced empty shelves in supermarkets due to panic-buying.”

“Whilst the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has exposed the structural weaknesses of our current food system, calls for change are gaining traction. Moving to a circular economy for food presents an attractive model that works to increase the resilience and diversity of supply chains through regenerative practices, design out food waste, and create transparent value chains.”

“Applying circular economy strategies would help build resilience at all levels and respond to some of the existing vulnerabilities presented above. In the midst of the pandemic, food safety has become paramount for consumers and streamlining global supply chains — developing, for example, direct relationships between retailers and farmers to gain better food standards — can help build trust in the food we eat.”

In the article they conclude that this pandemic has created the perfect opportunity to address food supply and create the circular economy for food in order to prepare us for any further shocks in the future.

“A shift to a circular economy for food is now more relevant than ever since it helps create a system that is resilient to shocks while meeting global demand, delivering healthy food, and providing good livelihoods for farmers. This transition would provide positive outcomes for the environment, human health, and biodiversity, as well as contributing significantly to the fight against climate change. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the problems of our current food system. While some positive trends have emerged in response, it is now crucial that they are built on.”

Read the full article here

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