The 2021 UN Food System Summit – a game-changing opportunity for food systems and health?

By Tifenn Piolot-Doco, Policy Assistant, EPHA

Set to convene in September 2021, the United Nations Food System Summit (UN FSS) is presented as an opportunity to rethink food systems and launch new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food. This echoes current European discussions on the need to shift towards healthy and sustainable food environments, conducted within the Farm to Fork Strategy and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

It is recognised that our current dominant food system is unsustainable and plays a crucial role in eroding health, disrupting ecosystems and reinforcing socio-economic inequities. Thus, by addressing food comprehensively the Summit also promises to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Considering the urgent need to implement meaningful actions at all levels, while at the same time recognising the complexity of the interactions within food systems, the UN Summit intends to generate ‘game-changing’ propositions coming from real-world experiences. By raising awareness and elevating public discussions around such issues, it is meant to offer room to exchange on meaningful and effective reforms to achieve the SDGs. The overall aim is to develop guiding principles for all stakeholders and to create follow-up and review mechanisms to monitor implemented actions. To carry out this ambition, the so-called “people and solutions summit” led by Dr. Agnes Kalibat, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the UN FSS, provides a wide range of online tools such as public forums to enable all food actors to come together. By creating a dedicated space to share, learn and foster new actions and partnerships or to amplify existing initiatives, the Summit aims to democratise the debate about food systems.

These public forums are divided into 5 ‘Action Tracks’:

  • Track 1 is about “ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all” by addressing hunger and malnutrition in all its forms;
  • Track 2 focuses on the “shift to sustainable consumption patterns”;
  • Track 3 stresses the need for “nature positive production”;
  • Track 4 intends to “advance equitable livelihoods”;
  • Track 5 is about ensuring the resilience of our food systems.

Considering the wide range of health determinants, all Action Tracks are relevant from a public health point of view. Adding to the working groups under the Action Tracks, food system summit dialogues are organised at different levels, intended to gather a wide variety of actors; ranging from governments to organisations, to individuals, providing them the chance to compare their objectives, views, and positions on the needed production and consumption shifts. This jungle of initiatives offers plenty of opportunities to emphasise the centrality of public health to the current food systems challenges and solutions, including how a health framing can support equitable and positive transitions. How can you contribute to the debate?

Follow and contribute to the discussions on the different Action Tracks. Raise your voice by joining the Food Systems Community or by organising an Independent Summit Dialogue. Everybody is a food systems actor and yes, you too can become a ‘food systems hero.’

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