The following is an excerpt from Nourished Planet: Sustainability in the Global Food System, published by Island Press in June of 2018. Nourished Planet was edited by Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, and produced with support from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.

Agriculture is the base of food systems. In the view of Alexander Müller, study leader of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood), “Agriculture is arguably the highest policy priority on today’s global political agenda, in recognition of its widespread impacts on food security, employment, climate change, human health, and severe environmental degradation.”

Agriculture affects so many aspects of our society, and monitoring them with a standardized method can be a challenge for governments, businesses, and consumers. A deeper understanding of the effects provides a foundation for all actors to work together toward meeting the global demands for healthful foods and ethical and profitable sustainable farming practices.

A method being applied more widely in the food system today is an economic model called true cost accounting, which identifies and quantifies the total cost of food and agricultural production depending on the type of farming system. The goal is to improve the transparency of the true cost of producing food to increase fairness to farmers, make food more affordable for consumers, and decrease environmental and public health impacts.

When making food choices, eaters may consider taste or nutrient content, but they are not often aware of the “true” cost of the food’s availability at the market. The retail price of food rarely accounts for the cost of pollution, water scarcity, soil degradation, increasing GHG emissions, and poor labor standards, not to mention the health effects of non-nutritious foods.

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