France has once again topped the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), an annual ranking of major countries on their commitment to food sustainability created by The Economist Intelligence Unit in partnership with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.
The FSI ranks 34 countries according to their food system sustainability. These countries represent over 85 percent of global GDP and two-thirds of the global population. Japan and Germany also scored top spots, performing well in the areas of food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges.
“Sustainable food systems are vital in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Major global developments such as climate change, rapid urbanization, tourism, migration flows and the shift towards Westernized diets put food systems under pressure. The Food Sustainability Index is an important tool to help policymakers and other relevant stakeholders to design effective policies to improve food system sustainability,” said Martin Koehring, Managing Editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit.
France’s high ranking is largely attributed to government-led initiatives and legislation requiring French companies to include data on food waste in their CSE reports and a new law obliging supermarkets to donate food nearing its sell-by date to charities or food banks instead of throwing it out. The country also boasts low rates of nutritional deficiency, including micronutrient deficiency.
In terms of European countries, Germany, Italy and Spain follow closely in France’s footsteps. Italy scored in the top tier for its policy response to food loss, which includes relaxing regulations that previously made donating food to charity cumbersome, and is the best-performing European country for the low environmental impact of its agriculture on the atmosphere. Germany leads the index for agricultural sustainability, in particular, due to its water-withdrawal practices and relatively low usage of fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, the country has funded a number of initiatives as part of its plan to halve food waste by 2030. Spain is one of four pilot countries in an EU-funded program, REFRESH, which is trialing projects to limit food waste throughout the value chain. South Korea and Colombia also scored well regarding sustainable agriculture, the result of innovative technologies aimed at mitigating climate change.
Japan, the second highest ranking country, performed highest in the report’s nutritional challenges pillar, reflecting its leading position and high scores in the life quality and life expectancy categories, as well as strong performance in dietary patterns.
Despite having the highest GDP per head, the United Arab Emirates ranks last, while Ethiopia, the poorest country in the FSI, ranks at 12th. In common with other countries in the Arab world, the UAE has a high level of food waste, rising levels of obesity and receives a low score for sustainable agriculture.
Industrialized Western countries fared no better — the US languished in 21st place. It achieved a ranking of 31 in sustainable agriculture and in terms of nutritional challenges, ranks 24th, dragged down by elevated levels of consumption of meat, saturated fat and sugar content.