Food systems play a crucial role in unprecedented reductions in hunger, malnutrition and poverty since food is among the leading causes of our global health and sustainability crises. The modern food system has historical basis with many amendments made to reshape it to meet the psychological, social and cultural needs of present generations. The global food system is constantly undergoing changes and evolving from time to time as per the needs of the consumers and hence there is no single food system that caters all the needs.
Characteristics of Food systems
- Food systems are dynamic
- Food systems are interdependent
- Food systems change from being supply driven to demand driven
- Food systems are closely related to food safety
- Food systems are non-linear and so are the food safety problems. A small deviation in some part of the system may have a large effect or no effect at all
- Food systems are complex adaptive systems
- Complex food systems involve interconnected subsystems
- There is no one ideal food system that suits all purposes
Changes in Food Systems
The food systems continued to evolve since agriculture began and dependency on food systems has become inevitable. They are highly dynamic and evolve in response to natural forces, demographics, economics, advances in technology, entrepreneurship and customer preferences. These changes brought into picture many advantages and challenges and ever greater diversity and complexity. There are many factors that drive this change:
- The emergence of city-states resulted in pooling large populations within set borders requiring governance to deliver sufficient quality and quantities of food. Standardized weights and measures were established along with the expansion of money and accounting
- Science and technology is another major driver that changed the way the food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged, preserved and transported
- Per capita income has increased post industrial revolution. The emerging middle class had decent income to spend on its food preferences
- New methods of food preservation such as canning, freezing drying and fermentation have come into play
- The 20th century witnessed intensification of agricultural production with novel mechanisms for planting and harvesting and selective breeding of animals.
- Colonization created distributed ownership of food systems and war highlighted the need for global arrangements. Dramatic changes took place in trade post the world wars
- The war associated crisis pertaining to food, health and economy resulted in global trade agreements and organizations to address the issues
- Food systems changed from being supply driven to demand driven, followed by increased agricultural production to ensure sufficiency
The Complexity of Current Global Food Systems
As mentioned previously, food systems are diverse and complex. Plants and plant products, animals and animal products, vitamins and minerals are the core ingredients in food systems. Each processed food item contains ingredients imported from many countries. The food processing supplies such as processing equipment, packaging and chemicals such as preservatives and disinfectants move globally. For instance, a cheeseburger contains around 50 ingredients each of which is sourced from countries in every continent of the world except the arctic.
The present day market is taken over by ready-to-eat foods, frozen foods and fast foods owing to every growing demand from the consumers, thus expanding supply chains. The growing complexity of food systems raises concerns about food safety with respect to the likelihood and magnitude of food-borne illnesses as there is scope for contamination at any point in the food system.
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