Pick Up

731. Food Systems and Syndemic

Related Research Program


731. Food Systems and Syndemic

Three years have passed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The situation in the food system over the past three years has been characterized by amplified uncertainty about global food security, with international food prices soaring to record highs at one point during the past year under the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while concerns about supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic have not abated. The world's food supply is still in a state of flux. Today, high prices for inputs such as feed, oil crops, and fertilizers continue to fuel cost-push food inflation in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, during the same period, extreme weather events were observed around the world, and abnormal situations that shocked food production, such as outbreaks of plant diseases and pests and the spread of livestock infectious diseases, were reported around the world with increasing frequency.

Under the growing uncertainty surrounding global food security, the decades-long trend toward eliminating hunger has reversed itself in recent years, with an estimated 700-800 million of the world's 8 billion people now facing hunger. At the same time, however, more than 3 billion people are overweight or obese, placing a burden on the health care system. This distorted nutrition and health food system is responsible for about 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause anthropogenic climate change. It is also the largest contributor to land use change and biodiversity loss, and is a major factor beyond the planetary boundary. What we eat and how we produce it comes at the expense of human and planetary health.

In response to these challenges facing our food system, the Lancet Commission warned that humanity was already facing a "syndemic" of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change in 2019, before the pandemic occurred.

Syndemic is a combination of the words "synergy" and “epidemic", originally coined by medical anthropologist Dr. Merrill Singer in the 1990s. While a pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of an infectious disease, a syndemic refers to a situation in which multiple epidemics are occurring simultaneously due to a common cause and interacting with each other to aggravate the disease. For example, HIV weakens the immune system, making people more susceptible to other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, but the environment, including poor health care and sanitation, is also a social factor that breeds multiple infectious diseases simultaneously. They are not occurring in isolation, but are fully intertwined under the food system, raising the need to rethink the nature of the food system itself.

To summarize the Lancet article and the food system discussions in Pick Up so far, the syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and global crises, including not only climate change but also biodiversity loss, is a combination of "massive consumption of cheap energy supported by supply chain development" and "over-consumption of the earth's finite resources" to provide "cheap food". However, as is happening today, the system that provides cheap food appears to be facing the risk of collapse due to soaring fuel, fertilizer, and feed prices caused by supply chain disruptions and abnormal weather, pests, and infectious diseases caused by human activities exceeding the limits of the Earth. It is no longer feasible to provide cheap food by passing on the bill to the producers' management efforts, the earth, and future generations. We need to fundamentally rethink the way our food system should work through an "earth-friendly diet" that properly reflects the cost of maintaining the health of humanity and the planet.

This coming weekend, Saturday, March 11, the Science Council of Japan will hold an academic forum, "Global Warming Mitigation from the Food System Perspective". The forum will discuss the impact of the food system on the global environment, especially global warming, as a whole supply chain system from food production by the agriculture, fisheries, and livestock industries, through processing and distribution to consumption and disposal. The paths for future research and development and collaboration among industry, academia, and the public will be discussed. With “syndemic" as a key word, the presentation from JIRCAS will unravel the background of the coexistence of obesity, low nutrition, and global health crisis in the development of the food system since the mid-20th century from technological and economic perspectives, and will show the necessity of earth-friendly diet. Please consider participating

Science Council of Japan Academic Forum "Global Warming Mitigation from the Food System Perspective
Date and Time: March 11 (Sat), 2023, 13:00-17:30
Venue: Science Council of Japan Auditorium (online)
Program and other details (external link): https://www.scj.go.jp/ja/event/2023/331-s-0311.html 


Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Information Program)


Related Pages