January 13, 2015
On Tuesday, January 13, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council published A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System to aid in food and agriculture decision making.
Sponsored by the JPB Foundation, this report outlines guiding principles and practical steps for stakeholders to weigh the varying tradeoffs associated with the vastly complex US food system.
The Four Principles
Comparing different food systems requires careful considerations of the connections between the human and environmental health as well as social and economic factors. Issues like diet-related chronic disease, pesticide pollution, workers’ rights, greenhouse gas emissions, food insecurity, and antibiotic resistance complicate the decision making process and are often reviewed in isolation rather than with a holistic approach. The proposed framework considers negative and positive impacts across the food system addressing all domains and dimensions across time, space, and populations.
The Framework in Action
While the purpose was not to perform an analysis of US food systems, the IOM committee did provide real-world examples of their framework including seafood recommendations, antibiotic use in agriculture, biofuel mandates, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, nitrogen management, and egg production practices.
These demonstrations of the framework illustrated to the committee members that any policy aiming to produce one outcome could result in a range of impacts in other domains. By examining all of the trade-offs possible, this integrated approach prevents unintended consequences from food-related policies.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming eight ounces of fish each week in order to promote cardiovascular health, but this creates made environmental, social, and economic impacts across the globe. Environmental impacts such as the depletion of wild stocks are a commonly understood consequence, but the addition of social and economic impacts further expand the analysis. For instance, job creation from fish processing industries is a positive impact of the policy. However, these positions come with associated occupational safety concerns. Additionally, increased global imports affect affordability in local markets contributing to food insecurity in exporting countries.
The committee doesn’t offer a revised recommendation for seafood consumption, but it does the leg work for policy researchers looking to complete a comprehensive analysis providing possible metrics, sources of data, unanswered questions, and a review of the literature. Considering the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advisory committee weighs only peer-reviewed nutrition publications concerning the benefits or risks from consuming seafood, this approach could prove useful in retooling the advisory committee process allowing them to consider cross-cutting issues previously left out of their discussions.
Funding for Data Collection
In addition to hoping researchers and policy makers adopt the framework in future food system analyses, the IOM urges Congress and federal agencies to continue funding and support for food systems data collection. This news comes at the same time that the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has mailed the 2014 Organic Survey, a provision of the Fiscal Year 2014 omnibus funding bill that NSAC advocated for and supported. To read more about the importance of this survey, check out our previous blog post.