The study focuses on assessing the health, environmental, social and economic effects of proposed changes to the system.
Examples of how the framework could be applied to analyze actions and policies in the food system, include: antibiotics in animal feed, policies on biofuel blended with gasoline supplies, and recommendations on fish consumption for overall health.
Why change the food system?
The researchers of the report say making a change that affects only one part of the food system and for only one purpose — whether intentional or not — can have major consequences on the other parts of the system.
The analysts used the example of how a recommended increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables to promote healthier diets raises questions about the potential environmental and social impacts of increasing their supply, such as creating a greater need for farm labor.
The report’s framework encourages methodical thinking about not only the food system in itself, but also its relationship with health, the environment and our society.
The Recommended Steps
Researchers offer six recommended steps in the report’s framework: identify the issue, define the scope, identify the scenario(s), conduct an analysis, synthesize the results, and to report all findings.
The framework also includes a set of principles to be considered throughout the processes of each step. The principles include:
- Considering the effects across the entire food system. Both positive and negative effects, whether in the environmental, social or economic factors of the food supply chain, are possible.
- Address all dimensions of the effects. Each assessment should take into account the effects and therefore recognize that trade-offs between the different effects are often necessary.
- Account for food system dynamics and complexities. A full assessment should always consider any complexities. The food system is an adaptive system with a wide variety of processes that are interdependent.
- Lastly, choose appropriate methods. This principle applies to being careful in choosing the metrics and methods in conducting a meaningful assessment. The report identifies certain metrics, data sources, analytical techniques, and simulation models that could be used in an assessment of a policy or action affecting the food system.
“The U.S. food system is complex, and when any policies or decisions are made that impact the system, there will be trade-offs,” said Victor Dzau, president of the Institute of Medicine. “The framework developed by the committee could help foster improved decision-making on how the food system might be better organized, altered and maintained.”