Tom Arnold to lead expert group on global food systems

Irish agricultural economist appointed by European Commission to assess options for a more sustainable food economy

The European Commission has appointed Irish agricultural economist and public policy adviser Tom Arnold as head of an international team of experts to assess how best to develop sustainable food systems globally.

The expert group has been asked to assess the needs, options, impacts and possible approach for an International Platform for Food Systems Science. It will also examine if there is a need to establish a food equivalent of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an expert body that analyses the impact of carbon emissions and global warming on the planet.

The group will inform the commission’s position at the UN’s Food Systems Summit in September, Mr Arnold confirmed. This is part of a “decade of action” to achieve by 2030 the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is due to agree “bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems”.

“The path to a sustainable economy exists – driven by renewable energy, sustainable food systems and nature-based solutions. It leads to an inclusive world at peace with nature . . . this is the vision we must all adopt,” UN secretary-general António Guterres said on Friday.

Mr Arnold is also chairman of the Irish 2030 Agri-Food Strategy Committee, which is due to report shortly on the direction of the Irish food sector. It will follow the Food Wise 2025 strategy, which centred around expansion, and will take into account emerging sustainability issues relating to agriculture.

Raising the profile

The EU initiative is about raising the profile of food in the context of its connection to health, the environment and climate change, Mr Arnold said. They would be setting out “a clearer sense of direction” globally, backed by sound science. This, in turn, would guide national governments on emerging policy issues.

The commission said the group “will address gaps in the provision of food system science and evidence, in view of supporting improved global food system governance”. Good governance at government level and within supply chains are considered essential to sustainable, resilient food systems.

Consisting of 19 international experts, it will work in close co-operation with the commission’s directorate-general for research and innovation.

Outcomes from the summit will guide the second part of the group’s work, to be completed by May 2022; the setting out of “options and policy recommendations for further strengthening the international science-policy interface for improved food systems governance”, said commissioner for research and innovation Mariya Gabriel.