STErn, a German project (2020-2023), develops a political roadmap for the transformation towards a sustainable food system. The roadmap identifies short-, medium- and long-term courses of political action. The acronym STErn (meaning “STAR”) is based on the German name of the project „Sozial-ökologische Transformation des Ernährungssystems“, which translates to "Socio-ecological Transformation of the Food System").
The focus is on four topics:
- Regionalization: STErn examines the priority that environmental policy should give to regionalized food systems and analyzes the possible effects of a stronger regionalization of food in Germany. On that basis, it develops a concept for regionalization of Germany’s food system that is manageable and compatible with environmental policy.
- Plant-based nutrition: The project examines how the change to more plant-based nutrition can be supported politically. Helpful political interventions will be identified, suitable indicators for measuring success will be developed and merged into a strategy.
- Further development of the organic food and farming sector: Scenarios and (further) development concepts for the organic food and farming sector are being elaborated. These are not only aimed at agricultural production, but encompass the entire value chain and strongly incorporate the experience of practitioners Based on these, recommendations for action will be formulated for policy-makers, scientists and practitioners.
- Financial sector: The role of the financial sector in the transformation of the food system is analyzed as a cross-cutting issue. Based on this, proposals for determining sustainable investments in the food sector as well as proposals for improved financing of sustainable regional production and processing concepts will be developed.
The development of the political roadmap is carried out in close dialogue with relevant actors in Germany, who are involved through interviews and workshops.
Food systems around the world have changed dramatically in recent decades. During the so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, new technologies and practices proliferated - such as the use of high-yielding varieties, artificial irrigation, mineral fertilizers and pesticides. As a result, global food production increased sharply.
However, the high intensification also comes with serious social and environmental consequences. In addition, there are increasing pressures on natural resources and ecosystems from a growing world population, rising demand for agricultural products outside the food sector, changing dietary patterns towards more resource-intensive animal foods and highly processed products, and changing consumption patterns towards more resource-intensive animal foods and highly processed products. In this context, nutrition-related diseases are also increasing at an alarming rate.
One reason for the negative social consequences of the food system is that the environmental and social costs of the current food system are not always reflected in the price of food. This means that, while food prices have fallen over the years, this is also due to the socialisation or externalisation of the true costs. This, in turn, creates unfair competitive conditions in the food market from a sustainability perspective, economic damage and ethical problems, which are reflected in the health system, the strain on natural resources, the loss of pollinators, animal suffering and food waste.
The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted some of the problems of the current food system. These include the vulnerability of concentrated production and processing structures to crises, as well as precarious working conditions. It also underscores the importance of intact natural habitats for the environment and human health, as the risk of pathogens being transmitted from animals to humans increases with the destruction of natural animal habitats. One of the key drivers of natural habitat destruction is the expansion of land-intensive livestock farming and, ultimately, the overconsumption of animal-based foods in many countries.
In recent years, political impulses have been sent out: The need for a socio-ecological transformation of the food system is expressed, for example, in the European "Farm to Fork Strategy" of 2020. The task now is to create political framework conditions that do justice to the complexity of the socio-ecological challenges. So far, this has not been done to a sufficient extent: Food policy issues (agriculture, environment, health, food security, economic development, etc.) are fragmented in different departments and do not follow a coherent strategy. For instance, agricultural policy support does not follow an overarching approach that considers everything from agricultural production through trade and consumption to disposal/recycling. In addition, important sub-areas of the transformation of food systems - such as the promotion of plant-based diets - are not yet consistently on the political agenda.