Reshaping the Food System for Ecological Public Health

Food policies in the 21st century need to be radically reconfigured to address a new set of fundamentals that includes climate change and peak oil, water, population and land pressures. More attention is needed to clarify what priorities flow from putting health at the center of food policy.

A new paradigm of ecological public health is emerging, one which links human and planetary health with food as a key connection point. This article outlines aspects of what this entails, stressing the need for food policy to address not just supply, but governance and consumer cultural challenges too. The case and evidence for structural change—carefully managed and incremental maybe, but fast and deep nonetheless—are strong.

Key Recommendations:

  • Build ecological public health into the business model and take a whole-chain approach from farm to consumption.
  • Inject health and social justice into the sustainability agenda.
  • Take a cross-disciplinary approach to food policy research.
  • Address both short- and long-term behavior change.

Food policies created in the mid 20th century to deal with undersupply are ill-suited to address today’s challenges of over, under and mal-consumption and the gross inequalities that exist within and between nations. A new way of thinking about food and health is emerging, but there is much work to do before better integration of supply, society and environment is achieved. The ecological public health approach proposed here could help provide vision for 21st century policy on food systems.