Food, Climate Change and Nutritional Security – Breaking out of the Vicious Cycle

Dr. Dorit Adler – The Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition

Head Dietician for the National Council for Nutritional Security

The Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition

In the last few weeks we have been experiencing one of the most significant heat waves of the past few years. Waves of wildfires, world-breaking records of high temperatures, and long-lasting drought periods are happening all around the world including in northern European countries where these events are rare. In Sweden and Finland there are wildfires in areas that are in the Arctic Circle. In Japan, dozens of people died from rare high temperatures peaks and in England areas that were traditionally green have turned brown, and farmers whose animals enjoyed these green spaces for grazing are now forced to purchase their food. Most scientists link these extreme weather phenomena to longer term global warming and predict a rise in these heat episodes in addition to an increase in the overall average temperatures.

The food that we eat has an ecological footprint that varies according to its make-up. The environmental cost of eating red meat is 10 times higher than that of every other meat-based food such as chicken or pork. Raising cows emits five times more greenhouse gases and requires an area that is 28 time larger and water consumption that is 11 times that of eggs or chicken. On the other hand, plant-based nutrition can help in reducing greenhouse gases emissions, water and land usage while creating equivalent nutritional values in terms of energy, protein and other essential nutrients. The Mediterranean diet is a nutritional model based largely on vegetable-based food, which research has found to contribute to reducing most nutritional-based diseases that our population suffers from such as obesity, diabetes and certain types of cancer, and is also closely linked to reducing climate damages related to the food system.

The most significant report on the contribution of raising livestock to global warming, air pollution and damage to soil and water resources was published in 2006 in a position paper of the United Nations called Livestock’s Long Shadow. The purpose of this report was to raise awareness among the public and decision makers regarding the implications of the nutritional system, in order to reverse the rise in animal-based food and especially red meat. This trend has been becoming widespread in the world due to the rise of the middle class in China and an attempt to decrease the cost of meat using financial and regulatory tools. The food we consume contributes to a vicious cycle of climate change effects, which cause drought, deserts and deforestation, floods and fires that create issues of nutritional insecurity, among populations at risk. Nutritional insecurity creates rising prices of food, political instability and immigration as seen in various places in the world, most recently in Syria. At the same time, climate change contributes to decrease in food production, as well as its nutritional quality, meaning a reduction in its nutritional values which making the nutritional insecurity worse.

This reality of climate change requires creating integrated policy of all food systems, from agriculture to health, economics and education, through giving incentives to farmers to grow food that fits the standards of healthy and sustainable nutrition. In addition, promoting policies that create healthy food environment through financial tools, regulations and bringing back nutrition studies, cooking and school agriculture and sustainability as one of the core subjects from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition is working on a plan to ensure national nutritional security, a topic that many countries deal with, but not yet in Israel. The Forum acts in the Knesset to promote regulation that will support the different players in the food system into one that provides sustainable food for all.