Food is central to our health and wellbeing, our economy, our environment, and the health of our planet. Our current food system is fragmented and disconnected. This is why we need a unified food strategy.
The National Science Challenges can provide robust evidence and connections to subject-matter experts to underpin the development of a National Food Strategy.
Why do we need a national food strategy?
- Poor quality food is a major cause of ill-health and disease in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- An increasing number of New Zealanders cannot afford the high-quality food that constitutes a healthy diet.
- Food production contributes almost half the greenhouse gases produced in Aotearoa New Zealand, and water quality has been declining in many farming catchments.
- Extreme weather events have increasingly disrupted food production and highlight a major vulnerability. There is a need for better food security, particularly after disasters.
- The food we produce for export is vitally important for our economy. Overseas markets increasingly demand more sustainable food production and higher quality products.
- Government policies relevant to food and the environment do not accommodate the interactions between different components of the food system.
- The wellbeing of farmers and growers is suffering as they try to comply with policy, respond to extreme weather events, and take increasing responsibility for environmental restoration.
A unified national food strategy would deliver:
- A clear framework that underpins and connects policy relating to food across all sectors.
- More equitable access to affordable, nutritious high-quality foods.
- Better population health, education, and productivity outcomes by reducing the burden of diseases related to poor nutrition.
- A food production ecosystem that does not contribute to environmental degradation or exacerbate climate change.
- A food system that embraces and respects traditional methods and knowledge of food production and the protection of taonga species.
- Optimised local food production and distribution systems that reduce food waste and are resilient to disruption by adverse events.
- A balanced food system that meets domestic needs and delivers the important economic benefits of international food trade.
- Informed, timely adaptation to climate change by food producers.
Improving the health of people and the planet
Worldwide food production accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whereas in New Zealand food production contributes 50% of our GHG emissions.
Healthier Lives researchers designed a diet which meets our dietary guidelines, reduces GHG emissions and is no more expensive than what people reported eating in the last national nutrition survey. The team also looked at the effect of reducing meat consumption to the level recommended by the New Zealand Heart Foundation, replacing it with plant-based sources of protein.
Modelling showed that if everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand adopted these diets, they would offer protection against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, saving on healthcare costs. They also have a lower environmental impact. In addition, replacing red meat with minimally-processed plant-based foods, such as legumes, has large potential impacts on improving health equity.
In collaboration with Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, researchers investigated whether it is possible to produce the right crops to feed all New Zealanders this healthy, sustainable diet, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater contamination and minimising the financial impact on families and farmers. The answer is yes — by changing land use in the parts of the country that are unlikely to meet water quality targets without land-use change, we would be able to grow the food needed for this kind of diet.
Read the studies:
Harnessing expert knowledge and experience
The National Science Challenges were established in 2014 by the New Zealand government to tackle the most pressing issues and opportunities facing Aotearoa.
Since their inception, National Science Challenges have produced a wealth of research evidence across multiple domains and are therefore uniquely placed to help underpin a science-informed National Food Strategy.
In July 2023, the New Zealand International Science Festival in Dunedin hosted four panel discussions focused on National Science Challenge research.
The Feeding Aotearoa public discussion brought together five National Science Challenges with research evidence on ways to improve sustainable food production, produce high quality nutritious foods for export, prevent and treat diet-related disease, protect the environment from the effects of food production and help mitigate climate change.
Guided by facilitator and food journalist Nikki Bezzant, the panel discussed how we could move towards a food system that contributes positively to health, wellbeing, the economy, the environment and the health of our planet.
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