According to the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), France has the most sustainable food system of the 34 countries surveyed, a position it has retained from the previous year.
Developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, the FSI measures the sustainability of food systems across three pillars: food loss and waste; nutritional challenges; and sustainable agriculture.
According to the FSI, France performs most strongly in the components of the index that relate to food loss and waste. In 2013 France launched its National Pact against Food Waste, and in 2016 it approved legislation making it compulsory for supermarkets and large grocery stores to pass on unsold food to food banks or charities. Restaurants above a certain size are also obliged to recycle left-over food or issue ‘doggy bags.’
France also scores relatively highly in terms of nutrition, although it has slipped to fourth place due to an increase in obesity. France is ranked third in terms of agricultural sustainability, a big improvement on the previous survey, but still behind Italy. France is pressing ahead with an agro-ecology project, which stresses that improvements in agricultural performance should not come at the expense of environmental and social conditions.
Researchers at Iowa State University in America believe that integrating chickens into vegetable production systems could lead to greater efficiencies and healthier soils.
The researchers are testing what happens when a flock of broiler chickens lives on a vegetable field for part of the year. The chickens forage on the plant matter left behind after the vegetables are harvested and fertilize the soil with manure. Three different systems are being trialled, with around 40 chickens living in four mobile coops that the researchers move every day. Moving the coops around ensures the chickens have access to fresh forage and keeps their manure from concentrating any particular part of the field. An electric fence surrounds the field to keep out predators.
The chickens are introduced to the system after the vegetable crops have been harvested to prevent contamination of fresh produce, and the system has been overseen by the US Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
However, while the system may provide a number of environmental benefits, the scientists acknowledge that it may not be suitable for commercial situations. “We might come up with results that really help the soil, but if the system is not economically stable, I doubt growers will be willing to adopt it because it has to work for their bottom line as well,” Ajay Nair, an associate professor of horticulture and a vegetable production specialist at ISU.