KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

An overview of insights on the (un)sustainability of the international food system.

Food & Sustainability

How can the food system become sustainable by producing differently?

Food production can be made more sustainable by focusing on efficient use of water, energy, raw materials and land, by utilizing residues and by protecting the local environment.

Producing more efficiently

In the past 50 years production efficiency has greatly increased in the Netherlands. Crop yields have risen sharply and the amount of feed needed per kilo of meat or dairy products (feed conversion) fell. The ecological footprint of the Dutch diet has therefore fallen by nearly 10 per cent, next to an increase in consumption. The reason for this is that many improvements are focused on efficient use of expensive raw materials and expensive inputs such as labour, land and animal feed. With cheap or free inputs such as groundwater, phosphorus and nitrogen, however, incentives to consume and emit less are still lacking. All in all, in the Netherlands a decrease of approximately 6% of the ecological footprint is possible until 2030, by such measures as more efficient use of fertilizers and animal feed or reducing CO2 emissions. Most of the efficiency improvement (down 10 to 15% of the footprint), however, is achievable in the origin of imported foods, including cereals, soya, palm oil and coffee.

PBL (2013), p. 71.

Utilising residuals

Besides efficiency improvements, there is much potential in the recycling of waste streams that are otherwise not used. In this way, a circular and bio-based economy can be realised, as phosphate and nitrogen cycles from waste and manure are closed, and economic value is created in providing energy and even reusing food. For this, the agricultural and greenhouse sector can collaborate with other sectors such as energy, chemicals, water and nature management.

RLI (2014), p. 16.

Local environment and animal welfare

By not only producing efficiently, but also carefully, local environmental and natural impacts and animal welfare can be taken into account. Examples include more space for animals in the barn and free-range access, landscaping, agricultural nature management and less use of antibiotics and pesticides. Organically produced food is a prime example of this, but even the Volwaard Chicken with one Better Life star no longer requires antibiotics during its life.

PBL (2013), p. 71-72.