Swedish food strategy 2.0 - Six points for increased sustainability, security and competitiveness

Increased sustainability strengthens the safety and competitiveness of all actors in the food chain. That’s what researchers from Stockholm University, SLU, the Royal Academy of Sciences and RISE write in Mistra Food Future’s input due to Sweden developing a new food strategy.

Sweden has very good conditions for producing food. We have good soils, sufficient access to water and have already taken important steps in the green transition. Sweden is often seen as an example when it comes to sustainability. That our food production is and continues to be sustainable is becoming increasingly important in order to maintain competitive advantages in an environment that is changing to sustainable development. For us as researchers around the food system, it is gratifying that food-related issues have ended up high on the public agenda and that the discussion about access to sufficient and safe food has intensified here at home in Sweden, where we have long taken access to food for granted.

Food needs to be able to be produced even when agriculture is exposed to unexpected disturbances. The food system can benefit from lessons learned from previous crises, but at the same time it needs to equip itself to be able to face the unknown and find solutions that solve several problems at the same time. One starting point is to combine strategies for transition to sustainability with strategies for preparedness and resilience.

We hope that the Government Office for Rural Affairs will take our scientific advice and recommendations that we sent in for the work on Food Strategy 2.0 to heart. These recommendations from us as food scientists will be helpful to increase the pace of the necessary transition we are facing in order to reach a sustainable food system which means that we get a robust food supply, reach the environmental goals and at the same time secure Sweden’s competitiveness.

1. Put sustainability at the center of the food strategy and use broad, clear and measurable goals

Developing the food system involves goal conflicts that must be managed. An apparently profitable food system, based on the accounting profit of the actors of the food chain, but which at the same time gives rise to negative effects on public health and depletes natural capital, can lead to considerable societal costs if the costs of healthcare and loss of ecosystem services are included. With an overly narrow approach, we risk going wrong and risk missing several of the possible synergies that exist, where through a change, positive development can be achieved in relation to several goals at the same time.

2. Increase the production of the food of the future

The food of the future is healthy and resource-efficient. Increased Swedish production and processing of the food of the future also strengthens the country’s supply capacity and preparedness, and can contribute to improved competitiveness through more business opportunities for companies to develop. Fruit, vegetables and legumes are today the food group where Sweden has a low own production in relation to the population’s needs. There is great potential here to increase food production in Sweden, while at the same time the climate impact can be reduced. Sweden’s conditions for circular animal production need to be taken into account by the fact that the animal foods of the future are produced in systems based on raw materials that we humans cannot or do not want to eat, e.g. grass from pastures and paddy cultivation as well as residual products from the food industry. By consumers eating “less but better meat”, animal husbandry can be secured while meeting environmental goals.

3. Creating the conditions for sustainable and healthy consumption

There is great potential to simultaneously improve public health and reduce environmental and climate impact through more balanced diets such as increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes and blue food, reduced overconsumption and reduced waste. Research has shown the need for public policy instruments. Requirements also need to be placed on the actors of the food chain, industry and commerce, so that they contribute positively to a change in dietary patterns.

4. Accelerate the implementation of future-proof, resource-efficient technology

While the development of new environmentally smart technical solutions and cultivation systems can be intensified, our research shows that there is a great potential to reduce the environmental and climate impact from agriculture, fishing and the food industry by implementing already developed but unused technology and methods. What is missing are political instruments and financial resources.

5. Let sustainability transition and increased preparedness go hand in hand

We need to be able to produce food even when agriculture and the food industry are subject to disturbances. Stockpiling creates a buffer but does not remove the vulnerability over time. Production needs to be future-proofed by reducing our dependence on imported fossil-based mineral fertilizers and fuels, but also on soy feed from regions where there is a risk of deforestation. The system needs to use several different supply routes to secure the means of production.

6. Gather around a vision of good food

In a time of division, polarization and contempt for science, we are in greater need than ever of a visionary and knowledge-based leadership about good food. The good food is both tasty and good for human health and well-being, while minimizing damage to our biosphere and produced by competitive companies. As researchers at our universities have shown, food is much more than just nutrition. Food is culture, community, business and a central part of a living city and countryside. An updated Swedish food strategy is a unique opportunity to both contribute to increased sustainability, safety and competitiveness in the entire chain.

Line Gordon, professor i hållbar utveckling med inriktning mot hållbara livsmedelssystem, Stockholm Resilience Centre, SU
Helena Hansson, Professor vid Institutionen för ekonomi, SLU
Per-Anders Hansson, Professor vid Institutionen för energi och teknik, SLU
Maria Hellström, Senior Specialist vid RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Jordbruk och Livsmedel
Malin Jonell, Fil Dr i hållbarhetsvetenskap och forskare vid Stockholm Resilience Centre, SU och Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB) vid Kungl. vetenskapsakademien
Therese Lindahl, Fil Dr i nationalekonomi och forskare vid Beijerinstitutet för ekologisk ekonomi
Ulf Sonesson, Docent, forsknings- och affärsutvecklingsansvarig vid RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Jordbruk och Livsmedel