The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fragility of our food and health systems. Scientists agree that preserving intact ecosystems and tackling climate change reduces the prevalence of infectious diseases.1, 2 COVID-19 has reinforced understanding of the interdependence of ecological, animal, and human health by revealing what happens when we break down the natural barriers between animal and human populations. The destruction of natural habitats, wildlife trade, and intensive livestock farming systems all increase the risk of diseases spreading to human populations. New zoonotic and infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, bird flu, and now the coronavirus COVID-19
are a symptom of this breakdown. COVID-19 has revealed the vulnerability of our food systems to shocks — panic buying, labour shortages, the health of food systems workers, the closure of informal markets, and growing food insecurity have impacted the most vulnerable populations.
Sustainable food systems play a critical role in creating and sustaining our health and well-being and that of the planet. It is time to put an integrated approach to human, ecological, and animal health and well-being at the heart of all policymaking, legislation, governance, investments, research, and practices.3
As governments around the world implement a set of economic stimulus packages and policies that support recovery, we urge them to consider a suite of health-promoting measures that are central to sustainable, resilient, and equitable food systems. Our own work with actors from around the world highlights the urgency for governments, alongside others, to shift mindsets and the prevailing narrative that focuses on producing more food with less impact — what we call the productivist, “feed the world” narrative — to one that promotes and prioritizes human, ecological, and animal health and well-being.4
The Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Tasting the Future undertook a comprehensive literature review and stakeholder interviews, and used insights from our set of case studies — Systemic Solutions for Healthy Food Systems: Approaches to Policy & Practice — to inform this guide for government action.5 Out of this process, a set of recommendations emerged that national governments can apply across geographies, cultures, and contexts in order to build resilience and improve food security outcomes. No one intervention will be sufficient on its own, and each must be adapted to the local context.