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Malnutrition due to food inequalities costs world $13.6 trillion annually

The double burden of malnutrition and rising demographics add pressure to the challenge and the environment, according to a report by Credit Suisse Research Institute

An equitable, more efficient and sustainable food production, distribution and consumption patterns can address the global issue of malnutrition that costs the global economy a whopping $13.6 trillion annually, says a report. The double burden of malnutrition and the rising demographics add pressure to the challenge and the environment, which can be addressed by a shift in food production and consumption towards a more sustainable system, the report by Credit Suisse Research Institute, the research arm of the Swiss brokerage, said on Tuesday.

UN estimates indicate that the world's population may increase from around 7.8 billion now to almost 10 billion by 2050, and close to 11 billion by 2100. But this growth is unevenly distributed around the world, with 93 per cent of growth expected in the next three decades occurring in lesser-developed Africa (59 per cent) and Asia (34 per cent).

And the implications of this on food production cannot be overstated, which according to the estimates from the World Resource Institute indicate that total food production (in terms of calories) needs to increase 56 per cent between 2010 and 2050 to feed this population.

"A sustainable global food system benefits human health and the global ecosystem. But this is far from the reality as almost 700 million of the people are undernourished now, while around 1.8 billion are overweight or obese globally and that 20 per cent of total deaths among adults can be attributed to dietary risks. Thus the impact of malnutrition arising from the discrepancies in food production and waste, alone costs the global economy $13.6 trillion annually" says the report 'The global food system: Identifying sustainable solutions.'

Food production, and importantly consumption, needs to change significantly to address these challenges, says the report, adding food production and consumption already contribute well over 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and account for over 90 per cent of the world's freshwater consumption and many studies have warned of the environmental footprint of the global food system significantly worsening during the next few decades unless action is taken.

The likely population growth to 10 billion by 2050 coupled with a further shift in diets, especially among the emerging middle-class, can increase food-related emissions by a further 46 per cent while demand for agricultural land can rise by 49 per cent. This is incompatible with the need to achieve a net-zero emission environment globally by 2050, warns the report.

"Challenges associated with malnutrition and the environmental footprint can partly be addressed by targeting food loss and waste. Over 30 per cent of food produced is either lost or wasted which means that in 2019 alone around $408 billion of produced food went unsold or uneaten and the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the combined economic, environmental and social cost associated with food waste at USD2.6 trillion in 2019," says the report.

What more, eliminating food waste in the US and Europe alone can add 10 per cent to the world's available food supply, the report points out and says solutions need to focus across the entire supply chain as almost 50 per cent of food loss and waste occur during production and handling phase, while 45 per cent take place in the distribution and consumption phase.

According to the food sustainability index developed by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, France, the Netherlands and Canada score best on he sustainability while Russia, Bulgaria and the UAE are in the bottom of the index.

While sustainability challenges differ between regions with developed countries scoring worse on diet patterns and food waste, and emerging countries need to address food loss and general life quality.

This means that a radical change in diet towards one that is plant-based appears inevitable if the global food system is to become more sustainable.

Research suggests that a plant-based diet not only has a 90 per cent lower emission intensity than that of a current average diet but that it also has the potential to reduce the number of premature deaths among adults by around 11 million.

Alternatives to animal-protein products including alternative meat and dairy products can grow from $14 billion now to $1.4 trillion by 2050. concludes the report.

Also read: Global economy likely to expand 5.6% in 2021, China may rebound to 8.5%: World Bank