This year, France once again topped the Food Sustainability Index, which annually compares 34 nations on measures including healthy eating habits, food waste policies, and food sustainability.
“Sustainable food systems are vital in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” said Martin Koehring, managing editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit, which helped carry out the study along with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation. “Major global developments, such as climate change, rapid urbanisation, tourism, migration flows and the shift towards Westernised diets, put food systems under pressure.”
France has recently proved a paragon of sustainable food practices. In 2015, it was the first nation to ban supermarket food waste, requiring markets to donate edible food to charities. The government has also attempted to help French farmers adapt to shifting conditions associated with climate change, and has pushed for increased forest growth to preserve soil and water quality. It also ranks among the lowest in obesity rates.
Koehring hopes the Index pushes other nations to take a page out of France’s book. “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 noted. Other countries, such as Japan, Spain, Sweden, and Germany, placed highly, as did Ethiopia at number 12, ranking well despite high malnutrition rates for its sustainable farming and low levels of waste.
Rapidly urbanizing nations, such as India, which ranked second-lowest of all examined after the UAE, typically scored low in food sustainability, perhaps because cities tend to produce vast amounts of food waste and significantly impact environmental degradation. The US, while relatively stable in terms of urbanization, nevertheless placed 24th due to its citizens’ unhealthy meals and its environmentally-poor industrialized farming practices.
The Index sheds light on countries with particularly inefficient and environmentally taxing food systems, which can have devastating global impacts. If food waste was managed successfully, it could end world hunger, which rose to 815 million people, the highest in a decade, according to Reuters. Additionally, heavily-industrialized food production in many regions degrades soil and pollutes or completely dries up viable water sources. Finally, mass production of unhealthy foods has caused a huge jump in obesity rates in recent decades, leading medical professionals around the world to examine eating practices with a closer eye.
It’s estimated that the global population could hit 11.2 billion by the end of this century, and establishing efficient, environmentally- and nutritionally-rich agricultural systems will be critical going forward.