UN Report Reveals Hidden Costs and Benefits of Global Agrifood Systems


The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recently introduced a framework to assess the hidden costs and benefits of agrifood systems, aiming to guide these systems toward greater sustainability.

Key Points

  • Global Challenges: The FAO emphasizes the need to appreciate all food producers and understand the true costs of agrifood systems.
  • They state that various global challenges, such as food availability, accessibility, affordability, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, economic slowdowns, and poverty, are interconnected and require a holistic approach.
  • Impact of Unhealthy Diets: The report highlights that over 70 percent of hidden costs are driven by unhealthy diets high in ultra-processed foods, fats, and sugars.
  • These diets lead to obesity and non-communicable diseases, resulting in labour productivity losses, particularly in wealthier nations.
  • Environmental Costs: About one-fifth of the total hidden costs are environment-related, including greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions, land-use change, and water use.
  • These costs affect all countries, indicating a global environmental impact.
  • Vulnerable Low-Income Nations: Low-income countries bear a significant burden of hidden costs, amounting to over a quarter of their GDP. Poverty and undernourishment are the most significant contributors to these costs in these nations.
  • True Cost Accounting: The report calls for more in-depth and frequent analysis by governments and the private sector, using true cost accounting.
  • FAO's Commitment: The FAO plans to dedicate two consecutive editions of the State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report to this theme, focusing on targeted assessments for mitigation strategies, including taxation, subsidies, and legislation.
  • The FAO encourages governments to use "true cost" accounting to address issues like the climate crisis, poverty, inequality, and food security.