Research Topic

Transitions to Sustainable Food- and Feed-Systems

About this Research Topic

If sustainable food systems are to be attained, concerted action is necessary to ensure that the often conflicting needs of the economy, environment and society (the ‘three pillars of sustainability’) are harmonized at local and global scales. At present, there is clear evidence that food systems are dysfunctional. For example, over 800 million people endure the consequences of poor-nutrition, and such impacts are not restricted to developing regions. At the other end of the scale, millions of people in all world regions suffer obesity and are exposed to high risks of early mortality due to poor diets. Equally important aspects to address are those of social equity, food sovereignty and corporate and governmental policies.

These societal consequences of dietary polarization, and need for ‘dietary transition’, are reflected in food and feed production systems and processing networks which are environmentally damaging and ultimately self-limiting. They currently rely on a narrow range of crop species, such as maize, wheat, and rice, whose products are destined for animal feed, biofuel and alcohol markets as well as human food. All of these crops rely on high inputs, especially of fertilizer and pesticides, and some of agriculture’s contribution to global greenhouse emissions (25%), may be attributed to the inefficient use of fertilizers and pesticides. Only one of the major global crops (soybean) is leguminous - in that they are capable of meeting their own nitrogen needs via biological nitrogen fixation. This capacity may also improve soil resilience and biodiversity both below- and above-ground the latter including pollinators and beneficial insects when linked to good management.

Attempts to resolve dysfunctionality in food systems usually focus on optimizing individual aspects of the food network (represented in the diagram), and emphasize operations at the farm-scale. Yet network integration from supply to policy is necessarily more complex, comprising many factors characterized here under broad food network categories of: ‘supply and production’; ‘processing, distribution and marketing’; and ‘policy, health and consumer preference’. Resolving food system dysfunction will rely on understanding the connections of food system component and harmonizing this network rather than optimizing any one part.

This Research Topic calls for evidenced-based research from the broadest range of disciplines including humanities, life and applied (industrial) sciences. Perspectives may be historical or contextual, and ideally should be trans disciplinary, crossing at least two of the three pillars of sustainability - ‘production environment’, ‘markets or economics’ and ‘society or policy’, and with special respect optimizing food quality, nutrition, public health. Papers may consider the criteria that can be used to define and so help realize sustainable food systems. Authors might give examples of existing sustainable food systems at local or global scales. Submissions may suggest methods or innovations to help ensure sustainable food systems in our time. Example questions to be addressed can include the following. What is the true state of our current food system and how did it get to this state? What are the key features of sustainable, and unsustainable, food systems? How may current, unsustainable systems, transition to improved states? What are the barriers and opportunities? How can we best monitor improved states, and ensure responses to help our transition towards sustainability for the long term?


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

If sustainable food systems are to be attained, concerted action is necessary to ensure that the often conflicting needs of the economy, environment and society (the ‘three pillars of sustainability’) are harmonized at local and global scales. At present, there is clear evidence that food systems are dysfunctional. For example, over 800 million people endure the consequences of poor-nutrition, and such impacts are not restricted to developing regions. At the other end of the scale, millions of people in all world regions suffer obesity and are exposed to high risks of early mortality due to poor diets. Equally important aspects to address are those of social equity, food sovereignty and corporate and governmental policies.

These societal consequences of dietary polarization, and need for ‘dietary transition’, are reflected in food and feed production systems and processing networks which are environmentally damaging and ultimately self-limiting. They currently rely on a narrow range of crop species, such as maize, wheat, and rice, whose products are destined for animal feed, biofuel and alcohol markets as well as human food. All of these crops rely on high inputs, especially of fertilizer and pesticides, and some of agriculture’s contribution to global greenhouse emissions (25%), may be attributed to the inefficient use of fertilizers and pesticides. Only one of the major global crops (soybean) is leguminous - in that they are capable of meeting their own nitrogen needs via biological nitrogen fixation. This capacity may also improve soil resilience and biodiversity both below- and above-ground the latter including pollinators and beneficial insects when linked to good management.

Attempts to resolve dysfunctionality in food systems usually focus on optimizing individual aspects of the food network (represented in the diagram), and emphasize operations at the farm-scale. Yet network integration from supply to policy is necessarily more complex, comprising many factors characterized here under broad food network categories of: ‘supply and production’; ‘processing, distribution and marketing’; and ‘policy, health and consumer preference’. Resolving food system dysfunction will rely on understanding the connections of food system component and harmonizing this network rather than optimizing any one part.

This Research Topic calls for evidenced-based research from the broadest range of disciplines including humanities, life and applied (industrial) sciences. Perspectives may be historical or contextual, and ideally should be trans disciplinary, crossing at least two of the three pillars of sustainability - ‘production environment’, ‘markets or economics’ and ‘society or policy’, and with special respect optimizing food quality, nutrition, public health. Papers may consider the criteria that can be used to define and so help realize sustainable food systems. Authors might give examples of existing sustainable food systems at local or global scales. Submissions may suggest methods or innovations to help ensure sustainable food systems in our time. Example questions to be addressed can include the following. What is the true state of our current food system and how did it get to this state? What are the key features of sustainable, and unsustainable, food systems? How may current, unsustainable systems, transition to improved states? What are the barriers and opportunities? How can we best monitor improved states, and ensure responses to help our transition towards sustainability for the long term?


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 November 2017 Manuscript
28 February 2018 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 November 2017 Manuscript
28 February 2018 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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