How do we move towards nature-positive food?

By Liam Taylor  November 10th, 2021

A new study has outlined how redesigning our food system to incorporate circular economy principles can help us regenerate nature.

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The study comes from UK-based circular economy organisation The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and shows how circular food design can create a system that is better for customers, farmers and the environment. The study estimates up to 70 per cent of biodiversity loss traditionally associated with the food sector can be prevented via a circular approach.

The report, entitled The Big Food Redesign: Regenerating Nature with the Circular Economy, shows how the industrialisation of the food industry has allowed us to feed a burgeoning population at a hefty environmental cost. The food industry is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 50 per cent of human-induced pressure on biodiversity. Instead of bending nature to produce food, the EMF suggests food production can help nature to thrive.   

The EMF’s approach is underpinned by the idea that food is designed, and can therefore be redesigned. 

“Everything you eat is designed, from your favourite takeaway to the type of vegetables you buy in the supermarket. Companies make choices about what we eat, how it looks and tastes, and how good it is for us and nature,” the report states. 

Expanding on this idea, the EMF explores four design opportunities for companies across the food supply chain:

  1. Diverse ingredients – using a greater diversity of animal and plant varieties and species as ingredients.

  2. Lower impact ingredients – simple swaps that have reduced environmental impacts, even when conventionally produced.

  3. Upcycled ingredients – transforming inedible food byproducts into new ingredients

  4. Regeneratively produced ingredients – producing food in ways that have positive outcomes for nature. These methods can also be applied to the way diverse, lower-impact and upcycled ingredients are grown.

By focusing on these four simple approaches to making changes within our existing food system, the EMF shows substantial environmental, economic and yield benefits can be achieved. These are measured in terms of reduction in biodiversity loss, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, increase in total food output and increase in farmer profitability per hectare of land used.

A graph showing the positive impact of circular design for food. Credit: Ellen Macarthur Foundation

A graph showing the positive impact of circular design for food. Credit: Ellen Macarthur Foundation

The report concludes by suggesting five targeted actions for food producers, namely Fast Moving Consumer Goods, and retailers to take to help create a food system in which nature-positive food products are the norm. These are:

  1. Create ambitious and well-resourced action plans to make nature-positive product portfolios a reality.

  2. Create a new collaborative dynamic with farmers.

  3. Develop iconic products to showcase the potential of circular design for food.

  4. Contribute to and use common on-farm metrics and definitions.

  5. Advocate for policies that support a nature-positive food system.

To read the The Big Food Redesign report in full visit: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/resources/food-redesign/overview.

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Liam Taylor

Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia. Joining the communications team at Planet Ark, he hopes to inspire positive environmental behaviour through effective and positive messaging.

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