SMART eating aids health and habitatHumanity's food choices have major consequences for nature, climate change, animal welfare, and human health. These insights have been put into practice by the city of Malmö in policies that promote climate-smart, organic and local food. Examples are using more vegetable proteins in school-food, a weekly farmers market, and progressing toward 100% organic school-food by 2012.
Keywords: climate-smart food, organic food, vegetable proteins, livestock emissions, food miles
The importance of food choices for sustainable development has been recognised in a range of forerunner initiatives by the city government of Malmö. For example, Malmö qualified first in Sweden as a Fairtrade City, and began offering organic food in city schools in 1996 (see also Bristol). Malmö began implementing a “Climate and Food” programme in 2004, and has the goal of 100% organic school food by 2012. These initiatives have gone hand-in-hand with the city's programmes for Learning for Sustainable Development and for promoting local food from the region around Malmö.
Organic food for sustainability
Malmö motivates its organic food goal on the basis of several arguments. Organic foods do not use pesticides, which can contaminate groundwater and cause health problems for people. Food produced according to Swedish organic standards both promote biodiversity and improve the welfare of livestock animals by facilitation of their natural behaviours, e.g. grazing and foraging. The serious problem in Sweden and the Baltic region of eutrophication and algal blooms is linked to the use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture, which organic farming avoids.
Although organic food generally costs more per unit, Malmö's school restaurants have been able to increase the overall share of organic food without raising budgets through strategies like using vegetable proteins (e.g. legumes) instead of meat and using fewer processed ingredients (like bread). This low-cost strategy also lowers the ecological footprint of food via the lower resource usage and carbon footprint of plant-based food.
In order to integrate the city's climate work with food, Malmö began working with a Swedish climate-smart food model, “Eat SMART”, that integrates Sweden's nutrition guidelines with national environmental quality objectives. The acronym “SMART” communicates five actions:
- larger share of vegetable-based food
- fewer empty calories
- increased share of organic food
- right choice of meat and vegetables
- minimised transport
The model's benefits range from better health (lower rates of diseases like obesity and cancer), reducing the cost of food, and boosting animal welfare and global food security.
Livestock sector harmful
The “Eat SMART” model's focus on vegetable-inputs was confirmed by the widely cited, and debated, 2006 study from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, ”Livestock’s Long Shadow”. It names the livestock sector as a top-three contributor to the world's most serious environmental problems, including: climate change, air pollution, water pollution and water scarcity, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. Livestock is the single largest user of land among all human uses (26% of all ice-free land), requiring 70% of all agricultural land, and a leading cause of deforestation (see also Ghent). The prospect of rapidly growing levels of meat and milk consumption increase the need to address this issue.
Deforestation, together with other factors like methane emissions, are why the livestock sector is credited by the FAO report for causing nearly 20% of greenhouse-gas emissions, more than the entire transport sector's emissions – a claim that has led to intense debate. The FAO report also concludes that “the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species”.
A key spinoff effect in Malmö is the focused development of regional food. The city has established a once-weekly farmers market with local organic food (see also San Francisco). Malmö has worked not only with the region's farmers but also restaurateurs and other large-scale food customers. A web-based logistics system is part of this coordination work. Along with benefits to the environment, e.g. from reduced food miles (transport of food), health benefits from fresher foods are also cited.
Malmö City has been able to develop these food-oriented projects with many sources of support. Its climate and food programme was supported through the Climate-Investment Programme and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. The European Union's Civitas framework has also contributed through the SMILE project.
Centrum för folkhälsa / Tillämpad Näringslära (Stockholm County Council) and Swedish Consumer Agency, 2008, “Ät S.M.A.R.T”, http://www.folkhalsoguiden.se/upload/Mat/Broschyrer%20och%20material/%C3%84t%20SMART%20Minifolder%202008.pdf, http://www.folkhalsoguiden.se/Informationsmaterial.aspx?id=1068
European Urban Knowledge Network, 2009, “Food & Climate Initiative in local schools, Malmö”, http://www.eukn.org/E_library/Urban_Environment/Urban_Environment/Food_Climate_Initiative_in_local_schools_Malm%C3%B6
Malmö City, no date, “Malmö Skolrestaurangers miljöarbete”,
Malmö City, no date, “Mat & klimat”, http://malmo.se/Medborgare/Miljo--hallbarhet/Strategiskt-miljoarbete-i-Malmo-stad/Miljoprojekt/Oversikt-avslutade-projekt/Mat--klimat.html
Galina Premovska, 2011, Climate friendly food and Health in School. An interview on school meals. Degree Project, Public Health Programme, Malmö University: Health and Society, Department of Public Health
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2006, Livestock's Long Shadow – environmental issues and options, Rome, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM
City of Malmö, http://www.malmo.se/english
Text by: Aaron Thomas