A Framework for Assessing
Effects of the Food System
Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health,
Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System
Food and Nutrition Board
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources
Malden C. Nesheim, Maria Oria, and Peggy Tsai Yih, Editors
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE AND
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by a grant between the National Academy of Sciences and the JPB Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-30780-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 978-0-309-30780-5
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015903230
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Suggested citation: IOM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council). 2015. A framework for assessing effects of the food system. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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COMMITTEE ON A FRAMEWORK FOR ASSESSING THE HEALTH, ENVIRONMENTAL, AND SOCIAL EFFECTS OF THE FOOD SYSTEM
MALDEN C. NESHEIM (Chair), Provost Emeritus, Professor of Nutrition Emeritus, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
KATHERINE (KATE) CLANCY, Food Systems Consultant, Visiting Scholar, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
JAMES K. HAMMITT, Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences, Harvard University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
ROSS A. HAMMOND, Director, Center on Social Dynamics and Policy, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC
DARREN L. HAVER, Director and Advisor, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California Cooperative Extension, Orange County
DOUGLAS JACKSON-SMITH, Professor, Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology, Utah State University, Logan
ROBBIN S. JOHNSON, Senior Advisor, Global Policy Studies, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
JEAN D. KINSEY, Professor Emeritus, Department of Applied Economics, Director Emeritus, The Food Industry Center, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
SUSAN M. KREBS-SMITH, Chief, Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD
MATTHEW LIEBMAN, Professor of Agronomy, Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University, Ames
FRANK MITLOEHNER, Professor, Department of Animal Science, University of California, Davis
KESHIA M. POLLACK, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
PATRICK J. STOVER, Professor and Director, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
KATHERINE M. J. SWANSON, President, KMJ Swanson Food Safety, Inc., Mendota Heights, MN
SCOTT M. SWINTON, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Michigan State University, East Lansing
IOM and NRC Study Staff
MARIA ORIA, Study Director
PEGGY TSAI YIH, Senior Program Officer
ALLISON BERGER, Senior Program Assistant
ALICE VOROSMARTI, Research Associate
FAYE HILLMAN, Financial Associate
GERALDINE KENNEDO, Administrative Assistant
ANA VELASQUEZ, Intern (until August 2013)
WILLIAM HALL, Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow (until April 2014)
ANN L. YAKTINE, Director, Food and Nutrition Board
ROBIN SCHOEN, Director, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
William H. Dietz, The George Washington University
George M. Gray, The George Washington University
Michael W. Hamm, Michigan State University
Shiriki K. Kumanyika, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Paul J. Lioy, UMDNJ–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Piscataway
Stephen Polasky, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Mark A. Rasmussen, Iowa State University, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Angela Tagtow, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Lori Ann Thrupp, University of California, Berkeley
Wallace E. Tyner, Purdue University
Laurian J. Unnevehr, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
John H. Vandermeer, University of Michigan
Patricia Verduin, Colgate-Palmolive Company
Rick Welsh, Syracuse University
Parke E. Wilde, Tufts University
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Diane Birt, Iowa State University, and Mark R. Cullen, Stanford University. Appointed by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Food is a topic that has become central to practically all aspects of modern life. Its centrality raises questions as to what constitutes a healthy diet, how is food produced, and what kind of food production is best for the environment. Will there be sufficient food in response to rising world population? Are there segments of the U.S. population that are food insecure? Are food animals raised humanely? Who is involved in food production? Are workers treated fairly and do they earn a decent living? Today, chefs are celebrities and our society increasingly outsources food preparation and service. Food studies has become a part of diverse academic curricula from the sciences to the humanities and has produced an expanding literature about the food system and its relationship to modern life. Health professionals and the public have come to realize that food is not merely a source of nourishment, it also reflects individual values and culture.
This increased interest in food follows a time of intense change in how food is produced, who produces it, and where it is produced. Over the past century, the United States has gone from being an overwhelmingly agrarian nation to a highly industrialized, urban nation where only a small portion of the population is involved in the actual production of food. The U.S. food system provides a remarkably varied food supply to the U.S. consumer at lower cost than nearly anywhere else in the world. Many are concerned, however, that the cost of food in the marketplace may not reflect its true cost. Some of the costs of food production and distribution are not reflected in the marketplace price of food but are “externalized,” borne by other aspects of the health, environmental, and social domains of our society.
Agriculture now represents a bioeconomy that produces not only food but also raw material for a variety of nonfood industrial purposes, including biofuels that power our vehicles. Food production, a core of this bioeconomy, competes with other societal demands for raw materials. Food components enter a supply chain that transports, manufactures, distributes, and markets food to consumers through a wide a variety of outlets. The interconnectivity of the components of the bioeconomy means that policies meant to affect one aspect of the system may affect other components in a manner often not anticipated. A committee was appointed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in collaboration with the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Research Council (NRC) to develop an analytical framework to assess the health, environmental, social, and economic aspects of the U.S. food system to take into account the complexity of the system. The committee recognizes that the U.S. food system is embedded in a global system that is broadly interconnected but the report concentrates on the U.S. component.
In carrying out this task the committee needed to define and characterize the current U.S. food system and to consider its evolution over time. The committee drew on the potential effects of the current system on health, the environment, and the social and economic domain that are described and documented in current published literature. The chapters that describe the effects provide insights into how aspects of the food system influence modern life in ways not always appreciated or accounted for. In producing this report, the committee has considered both positive and negative effects of the food system, without making overall value judgments about any particular aspect. The report is not intended as a critique of the U.S. food system but instead recognizes the numerous trade-offs embedded in current agricultural and food system practices. This report considers these trade-offs in examples that illustrate the interconnections between the food system, health, environment, and quality of life and demonstrate the analytical challenges of assessing new policies or practices.
During the committee’s deliberations, it became apparent that the food system is highly complex, with many drivers and actors. This realization led the committee to determine that analytical methods aimed at understanding complex systems are most appropriate for understanding configurations of the food system and the policies that affect it. The committee views the analytical framework as generic, one that can be used to investigate many different questions about the food system using a wide variety of methodologies, but requires that any analysis consider the implications of the health, environmental, social, and economic aspects of the question. The report identifies situations in the food system where such analyses are
essential, as their effects go beyond a particular policy or recommendation aimed at improving one area.
The committee hopes that the analytical framework outlined in this report will be broadly used by researchers and policy makers considering or evaluating alternative policies or potential configurations that project changes in the U.S. food system. The full use of the framework across all domains may require development of new methodologies or models that can deal with the full scope of the system. In the committee’s view, such analyses can help assure that the U.S. food system supports the health and the quality of life of our citizens and the sustainability of the environment.
The committee responsible for the report is unusually varied in expertise, with members chosen for their experience in agriculture, public health, nutrition, food safety, sociology, economics, complex systems, and the food industry. The chapters are authored jointly by committee members who contributed their expertise to appropriate areas, subject to review and comment from the entire committee. Committee members volunteered countless hours to the research, deliberations, and preparation of the report. Many other individuals contributed significant time and effort to address the subject matter of the report during an open committee session and through presentations at a workshop. We are grateful for their efforts.
The committee is especially thankful to the IOM and the NRC staff team for their continued support, particularly to the Study Director, Maria Oria, and Senior Program Officer, Peggy Tsai Yih, who ably shepherded the preparation of this very complex report; Alice Vorosmarti, who was invaluable for her information-gathering and drawing skills; and Allison Berger for her administrative support. The committee also benefited from the overall guidance of Robin Schoen, Director of the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and from Ann Yaktine, Director of the Food and Nutrition Board.
I am personally impressed by and grateful for the dedication and hard work of the committee members and staff in support of this project.
Malden C. Nesheim, Chair
Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System
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