Our Vision for a Sustainable Food System

Stray Dog Institute believes in creating a dignified, just, and sustainable future for all through transformation of the food system. We work within the United States to bring about systemic change through support for the activities of aligned NGOs.

We also recognize that in today’s increasingly connected world, what happens in one local food system has impacts on people and environments around the globe. To realize our goals effectively in the US food system, we must engage with the global dimensions of food production.

In this series, we consider problems and opportunities in the US food system in relation to global problems and solutions for human progress. Using the analytical frame of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), we explore ways that improvements in the US food system fit into changes needed at the global level to build a sustainable future for all.

Food’s Contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

At the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, participating nations outlined seventeen goals for global societal advancement by 2030. The SDGs call for systemic solutions to pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges around the world. The goals are connected and interdependent, demanding coordinated global action across borders and cultures.

Our current industrial food system is a primary driver behind many of the underlying problems described by the SDGs. To achieve the SDGs, we must transform food production and food consumption into forces that strengthen, rather than weaken, global progress toward sustainable development.

A resilient food system that can feed 10 billion people well and sustainably will be a powerful tool for ending poverty (Goal 1), reducing global hunger (Goal 2), and ensuring healthy lives for all (Goal 3).

Ensuring equality for women (Goal 5), inclusive and sustainable economic growth (Goal 8 and Goal 9), and reducing inequality between nations (Goal 10) are all strongly related to a robust food system that can continue to provide secure future sustenance, employment, and collective prosperity.

Because our food system heavily impacts global environments, we need a sustainable food system if we are to achieve sustainability in global water use (Goal 6), urban development (Goal 11), consumption and production (Goal 12), ocean use (Goal 14), and terrestrial ecosystem exploitation (Goal 15).

Replacing industrial production with sustainable, ecological food production will also be critical in the fight against global climate change (Goal 13).

Lastly, because the many action areas of the SDGs are mutually interdependent, a sustainable food system will be an important background consideration for achieving equitable education access (Goal 4), sustainable energy (Goal 7), peaceful societies (Goal 16), and global cooperation for sustainable development (Goal 17).

Our Vision for the Food System

Each plate of food we eat has a story to tell. Food connects us to culture, history, our values, and our goals. Food also gives us a window into the broader food system: the many dimensions of how food is grown, traded, and governed; where there is justice and injustice; where there is power, and how food production impacts our communities and our world. Today, awareness is rising that our food connects us to the environment and to other people in meaningful ways. Our food choices—and sometimes the lack of choice—are important.

Our present food system is a key driver of many social and environmental problems, rather than an effective contributor to urgently needed solutions. This is because the dominant industrial model of food production worsens many of the key indicators for human and environmental well-being articulated by the SDGs.

For seventy years, industrial agriculture has pursued a vision of food production that is fundamentally extractive, focusing on short-term financial gains from harvesting the most food at the smallest cost. This focus on cost-efficiency leads to the exploitation of animals and people and the unsustainable use of land.

The challenge of today is to create a resilient global food system that can support 10 billion people sustainably and compassionately, in a future marked by climate change. We face a critical choice: Will we continue to support producing food in a way that degrades the environment, disempowers farmers, exploits people, abuses animals, and harms our health? Or, will we contribute to changes large and small, political and economic, that can bring about a transition to a just and sustainable food system? How can we cultivate food production that works better for people, animals, and the environment? These questions drive our white paper and form the basis for this four-part series.


Improving Our Global Food System: The Key to Human, Animal, and Environmental Progress

The Unmet Promise of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

The United Nations has planned a Food Systems Summit for later this year, with the stated purpose of transforming food production and consumption to “deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” Placing the challenges of an equitable and sustainable food system front and center on the global governance stage is both welcome and necessary. However, there are signs that the event might not be the game-changer for inclusive progressive solutions that we so urgently need.

Questionable Partners

When the summit was first announced in December 2019, over 500 civil society organizations united in opposition to two key aspects of the planned summit: the involvement of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a likely organizing partner, and the appointment of Dr. Agnes Kalibata as the UN’s special envoy to the summit. Both WEF and Dr. Kalibata have a track record of advancing the interests of private multinational corporations at the expense of real progress on hunger and environmental goals. The inclusion of these two players sends a clear signal that the most critical solutions for global food systems may not be front and center at the event.

Questionable Process

Broad opposition to the involvement of WEF and the appointment of Agnes Kalibata as special envoy came swiftly. These efforts build on prior criticism of the UN-WEF partnership. Signatories called on the UN Secretary General to revoke Kalibata’s appointment and reexamine the influence of multinational agribusiness on the summit and its goals. Civil society orgs pointed out that Kalibata’s work with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) centers on promoting industrial agriculture with the backing of pro-corporate foundations. In contrast, the UN Committee on World Food Security has worked for more than fifteen years to democratically protect communities and the environment by limiting corporate control of food systems. To date, however, Kalibata remains UN special envoy to the summit despite the outcry, and the WEF remains the UN’s strategic partner.

Questionable outcomes?

For NGOs and communities on the front lines of food and agriculture policy needs, getting involved with the summit in its current form is fraught with uncomfortable tradeoffs. Some believe that participation is the only way to affect outcomes on critical issues, while others hold that getting involved risks legitimizing the event’s flawed process and lackluster potential for true solutions.

At this critical juncture for sustainable development through food systems transformation, it is imperative that global food and agriculture governance engage fully with the challenges and opportunities that exist for enabling a better world for all. The Food Systems Summit could be a tool for delivering urgently needed solutions and national commitments—so long as its solutions do not center on multinational profit agendas, and input from civil society groups is valued and allowed to shape the process and its outcomes.

However, if, as many fear, the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit positions corporate industrial agriculture as tomorrow’s solution and ignores existing consensus on the need for a global transition to agroecology and food sovereignty, the potential of this summit could be wasted.

In This Series

In the four upcoming posts in this series, we will take an in-depth look at the challenges of industrial food production and explore solutions that are possible within the global food system, the US food system, and on our own tables. Our goal is to elevate the scientific knowledge, community needs, and diverse voices that can shape a sustainable future. Throughout the series, we examine what kind of human development future our current food system is leading us toward and why it must change to bring the world closer to achieving the SDGs.

Part 1: Industrial Agriculture Threatens Sustainable Development explores the history of modern agriculture in the high-income nations, who built this industrial system, who has benefited from it, and what consequences it holds for a sustainable future.

Part 2: The High Cost of Consuming Animals looks in depth at the costs of producing and consuming animals within the broader context of industrial agriculture. This section describes the overlapping environmental, social, and public health risks of livestock production, revealing those who have paid the price for a strategy of agricultural progress built on factory efficiency.

Part 3: Building a Food System That Supports Sustainable Development examines structural factors contributing to the continued dominance of the industrial food system and what types of change are needed to bring about a transition.

Part 4: The Food System of Tomorrow: A Call to Action lists potential solutions at the global level, as well as specific opportunities that can spur sustainable transition within US politics and the US farming system.

About the author

Laura Driscoll

As Research Director for Stray Dog Institute, Laura writes articles and white papers revealing the role of animals in our food system and leads research on topics that can support improved advocacy for farmed animals. She is committed to amplifying the interconnected benefits of just and sustainble food system transformation.

About the Author

As Research Director for Stray Dog Institute, Laura writes articles and white papers revealing the role of animals in our food system and leads research on topics that can support improved advocacy for farmed animals. She is committed to amplifying the interconnected benefits of just and sustainble food system transformation.

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