In the process of developing this report, the committee found several instances where a change in a configuration (in policy or practice) or recommendation within the food system could lead to unintended and unexpected consequences in multiple domains beyond its immediate objective. These various instances demonstrate how an analytical framework that includes health, environmental, social, and economic domains is necessary for conducting more accurate assessments of any potential change to the food system.
The committee chose six examples (see Box 7-A-1) from different parts of the food system to illustrate how its proposed analytical framework would be applied. The framework could assess the effects of a change in a food system configuration (e.g., a policy or practice) either on its own or in comparison with a different scenario. Each example below illustrates how the lack of consideration in areas beyond the immediate desired outcome can result in wide-ranging and unexpected effects, and how a comprehensive approach is needed to incorporate possible ripple effects, interdependencies, interactions, and feedbacks. An illustrative, brief example on antibiotic resistance (see Box 7-7) is provided to demonstrate how the various steps of the framework might be applied. Five additional detailed examples are presented in these annexes.
The examples were selected because they address current questions or concerns that have had or could have important consequences, whether those consequences are positive, negative, or unintended. Each example takes the framework and follows the steps prescribed within it (see Box 7-1)
Examples of Food System Configurations Selected
to Illustrate the Application of the Framework
The use of antibiotics in agriculture (see Chapter 7, Box 7-7). The wide use of antibiotics in agriculture may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant organisms with implications for human and animal health. Analysis of historical and/or current configurations of the system may yield insights about the relative contributions of the food system and of human medicine to current growth in antibiotic resistance.
Recommendations for fish consumption and health (see Annex 1). Consumption guidelines for fish have not considered the availability of enough fish to meet them and the potential environmental impacts. Several alternative scenarios could entail a change in dietary recommendations or the application of new technologies (e.g., sustainable farming production methods).
Policies mandating biofuel blending in gasoline supplies (see Annex 2). Biofuel policies intended to increase the country’s energy independence and decrease greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuel were implemented without consideration of wider environmental effects and effects on domestic and global food prices.
Recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable consumption (see Annex 3). The purpose of this assessment could be to understand the barriers and inducements to fruit and vegetable consumption so that better interventions to increase consumption can be implemented.
Nitrogen dynamics and management in agroecosystems (see Annex 4). The use of high levels of nitrogen fertilizer to increase crop yields has environmental, health, and economic consequences that go beyond immediate concerns with crop yields. A baseline scenario could be one that is mostly reliant on mineral fertilizers without the use of methods to increase nitrogen uptake and retention. For comparison, an alternative cropping system could be less reliant on mineral nitrogen fertilizer and emphasize biological nitrogen fixation, manure and organic matter, amendments, cover crops, and perennial crops.
Policies on hen housing practices (see Annex 5). This case study presents an assessment that is currently being conducted to analyze the implications for productivity, food safety, and workers’ health of changing egg production practices. Data for the assessment are currently being collected on three types of hen management systems.
to show how it could be used. However, any analysis, synthesis, and reporting on those examples are excluded from this report as those steps go beyond the committee’s Statement of Task. Also, even though the scoping step is critical for identifying important dynamics of the system, the committee was unable to carry out that step in a thorough manner (it did not include a systematic review of topic areas) due to time and resource limitations. Instead, the committee selected the most salient effects and identified relevant scientific papers. For the analysis step, the committee reflected on needs in the area of data collection and general methods, but it did not deliberate on the best data or methods for a particular scenario. In addition to the time and resource limitations mentioned, a thorough assessment needs to carefully select the assessment team and level of stakeholder participation based on the initial questions. The committee was not constituted with the goal of performing an analysis in any of the particular questions, a step that was clearly outside of the Statement of Task and would need an assessment team with expertise in areas relevant to the particular question(s) to be addressed. Likely, the details of performing the synthesis (e.g., whether to aggregate the traits into an index or to do a cost–benefit analysis) and the reporting (e.g., who are the stakeholders) would be the prerogative of the assessment team. Therefore, readers should not take any of the specific analyses or configurations as recommendations, but rather as examples for future consideration.
Each of the examples below conveys how different aspects and principles of the framework need to be applied. For instance, the example on fruits and vegetables focuses on the number and diversity of actors that drive the system, whereas the nitrogen example highlights the need for intense data collection over time and geographical locations. It should also be noted that the example on policies on animal welfare dealing with commercial egg production is the only example for which a team of assessors is currently conducting an assessment. This example is of particular interest because the methodical approach taken to answer the questions happens to closely coincide with what is proposed for a framework. As recommended in the framework and outlined in the examples, the limitations and boundaries should be noted: for example, if data collection was restricted to one farm, it may not be appropriate to extrapolate such data to other regions or farms where other factors could play a role.
Lastly, for all of the examples, the steps of the framework are followed in a sequential manner: the problem, the scope, the scenario, and the analysis. However, the committee recognizes that in reality the framework might be implemented in a circular, iterative manner where additional questions, description of the scope, reviews of the literature, or analysis of data might be initiated when needed at any point during the process of assessing the system.
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