In this project we investigate whether and, if yes, how a transition to a circular food system can provide a solution to many of today’s environmental issues.
Environmental impact of the food system
Today’s global food system has a major impact on the environment; currently, our food production systems are reaching the Earth’s physical limits. They are responsible for about a quarter of all human-induced greenhouse gases, one third of global terrestrial acidification, the majority of global eutrophication, and they cover 40% of the world’s ice and desert-free land. The animal sector dominates these human-induced emissions, and uses the majority of all agricultural land, including 40% of our global croplands. This cropland is now being used to produce high quality animal feeds, but could also be used to produce food for humans. This results in a competition for land and other natural resources between feed and food production. To feed the world’s growing population and provide a safe operating space, we need to transform our current food system. A concept gaining increasing attention is the transition towards circularity in the food system. The questions is: Can a circular food system be the solution to feeding the world while respecting the planet?
Plant biomass forms the basis in a circular food system, and ideally it should be used primarily to produce human food. By-products from food production, processing and consumption should be reused or recycled into the food system We should make the most efficient use of animals by using them to unlock biomass that is inedible for humans, turning it into valuable food, manure and ecosystem services. While the principles of circularity make sense scientifically and are currently trending, we do not really know to what extent a circular food system can reduce the pressure on the Earth’s resources. In other words, the consequences of targeting circularity of materials and substances (biomass, nitrogen, phosphorus) in terms of environmental and socio-economic performance (markets, import and export, food and nutrition security, economic growth) of the food system are still unknown.
The aim of this project is to develop new pathways towards circular food systems to be able to feed the world, while respecting the planet.
Circular Food Systems (CiFoS)-model
To direct us towards animal production that contributes to a circular food system, we are in need of a new metric. During the first phase of this project we will develop a global bio-physical food optimisation model that accounts for circularity: CiFoS (Circular Food Systems model). The objective is to minimize the environmental impacts (land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, phosphorus use, and nitrogen use) on a global scale while still meeting human nutritional needs. The global CiFoS model is based on a country level assessment and, as such, can serve as a policy tool at different scales.
The results of this project will eventually result in a roadmap that incorporates locally relevant sustainable development goal (SDG) targets, synergies, and trade-offs for stakeholders to bring about transformative changes, thereby contributing to the transition towards a circular food system.