Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity

A recent commentary article published BMJ Global Health (2022) points out that, “The global industrial food system and consequent rapid rise of ultra-processed foods is severely impairing biodiversity. Yet although the impacts of existing land use and food production practices on biodiversity have received much attention, the role of ultra-processed foods has been largely ignored. An increasingly prominent ‘globalized diet’, characterized by an abundance of branded ultra-processed food products made and distributed on an industrial scale, comes at the expense of the cultivation, manufacture and consumption of traditional foods, cuisines, and diets, comprising mostly fresh and minimally processed foods. Ultra-processed foods are typically manufactured using ingredients extracted from a handful of high-yielding plant species, including maize, wheat, soy and oil seed crops. Animal-sourced ingredients used in many ultra-processed foods are often derived from confined animals fed on the same crops. The contribution of ultra-processed foods to agrobiodiversity loss is significant, but so far has been overlooked in global food systems summits, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences. Ultra-processed foods need to be given urgent and high priority in the agendas of such meetings, and policies and action agreed.”

Read the full commentary at:

Click to access bmjgh-2021-008269.pdf

Increased consumption of ultra-processed foods has been linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions as well as negative impacts on the nation’s water footprint and ecological footprint, such as deforestation, by a study that charted 30 years of dietary change in Brazil (da Silva et al, 2021; Askew, 2021). The authors of this study concluded that, “The environmental effects of the Brazilian diet have increased over the past three decades along with increased effects from ultra-processed foods. This means that dietary patterns in Brazil are becoming potentially more harmful to human and planetary health. Therefore, a shift in the current trend would be needed to enhance sustainable healthy food systems.” (da Silva et al., 2021).

Discussions related to the food system and biodiversity are important and timely as the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) will meet in Montreal, Canada from December 7-19, 2022. To learn more about the upcoming COP15 go to:


Source: BBC UK

The food system and biodiversity: what can consumers do to make a difference?

In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers simulated the potential effects of dietary shifts and food waste reduction on the biodiversity impacts of food consumption in the United States. The authors found that, “Adopting the [EAT-Lancet] Planetary Health diet or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)–recommended vegetarian diet nationwide would reduce the biodiversity footprint of food consumption. However, increases in the consumption of foods grown in global biodiversity hotspots both inside and outside the United States, especially fruits and vegetables, would partially offset the reduction…. Simply halving food waste would benefit global biodiversity more than half as much as all Americans simultaneously shifting to a sustainable diet.”

“Combining food waste reduction with the adoption of a sustainable diet [EAT-Lancet planetary health diet or USDA-recommended vegetarian diet] could reduce the biodiversity footprint of US food consumption by roughly half. Species facing extinction because of unsustainable food consumption practices could be rescued by reducing agriculture’s footprint; diet shifts and food waste reduction can help us get there (Read et al., 2022).”

To read the study in its entirety, go to: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2113884119

For more information on the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet, see: https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/


Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems



Askew K. Study charts impact of ultra-processed foods: Diet-related disease and climate change ‘share an underlying driver.’ Food Navigator. November 11, 2021. Available at: https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2021/11/11/Study-charts-impact-of-ultra-processed-foods-Diet-related-disease-and-climate-change-share-an-underlying-driver

da Silva, JT, Garzillo JFG, Rauber F, et al. Greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint, and ecological footprint of food purchases according to their degree of processing in Brazilian metropolitan areas: a time-series study from 1987 to 2018. Lancet Planet Health 2021; 5: e775–85.

Leite FHM, Khandpur N, Andrade GC, et al. Ultraprocessed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity. BMJ Global Health 2022;7:e008269. doi:10.1136/ bmjgh-2021-008269

Read QD, Hondula KL, Muth MK, et al. Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 2022;119(5):e2113884119.

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: www.sustainablerdn.com. You can follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/cmccullumgomez/

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