Read about key considerations for our food systems during this unprecedented crisis.
8 April 2020
  • Sustainable Food System
Customer queue outside supermarket during Covid-19 pandemic

SFS Programme statement on the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis and food systems


The One Planet network’s Sustainable Food Systems Programme is increasingly concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and related short and long-term response policies, in particular with regard to the following three key dimensions:

  1. The livelihoods of food systems actors, particularly small farmers and small businesses, as food systems face difficulties operating normally, potentially leading to gaps in food production, access and availability.
  2. The role of diets in exacerbating the health impact of COVID-19 and concern regarding the potential impact of COVID-19 on access to healthy, nutritious and sustainable food, particularly by vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.
  3. The increasing evidence on the relation of food systems with the growing number of emerging infectious disease outbreaks that are posing a threat global health and economic stability.

Each of these three areas are developed further hereunder.


1. Statement regarding country COVID-19 socio-economic response policies

Current deliberations on the nature of response policies and funding packages have centered, in some cases, on food access of vulnerable consumers and wages for low-income workers as well as liquidity for businesses, and exemption of credit/mortgage/rent payments.

While we welcome this focus, it is essential to recognize the unique needs of vulnerable social groups. In particular, elderly people[1] or small and mid-sized farmers and food-related businesses, of informal and seasonal workers, distribution and transportation workers and businesses, and the food service sector including street vendors, as well as the needs of vulnerable consumers. We are particularly concerned, as many of these stakeholder groups have no recourse to alternative livelihoods or access to public safety nets. It is critical that governments take a systems perspective to ensure the functioning of the food and agriculture sector in their response policies to the COVID-19 pandemic – supporting local food production and food supply chains, taking into account the broader interactions with food security and nutrition – giving special priority to the unique needs of vulnerable populations[2].

Additionally, it is essential to recognize the potential of small farms and food-related businesses to support the transformation toward resilient food production and consumption practices in guaranteeing access to food also in emergency situations.

We also stress the importance that response policies and economic stimulus packages are aligned with critical international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Accord. It is essential that we direct efforts to a sustainable recovery, adding the potential of green job creation as both a path to quicker recovery and as a strategy of resilience.


2. Statement regarding COVID-19 and sustainable and healthy diets

Current food consumption trends are posing an enormous health burden on humans due to non-communicable diseases. During the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with pre-existing non-communicable diseases (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.) and the elderly have a higher probability of contracting infection and a worse prognosis, including a higher fatality rate[3][4].

This highlights the need to focus on policy measures that promote healthier dietary habits that are mindful of planetary boundaries, as an essential pillar of preventive measures towards future outbreaks.

Additionally, prolonged confinement will lead to an increase in sedentary habits. More limited mobility may also entail a more limited access to healthy, nutritious, sustainably produced food[5]. Response policies should guarantee adequate access to such foods and include awareness measures on how to maintain a healthy, sustainable diet.


3. Statement regarding the relation of food systems and emerging infectious diseases

This crisis will demand, in due course, profound reflections regarding the risk to global health posed by certain food production systems (including wildlife trade). While the origin of COVID-19 is yet to be fully ascertained, there is clear evidence of an increase in emerging infectious disease outbreaks such as swine flu (H1N1), avian flu (H5N1, etc.) and Ebola being associated to human relationship with other non-human animals and their natural habitats[6],[7],[8],[9]. Evidence points to land-use change in tropical systems - or where wildlife biodiversity richness is high – as well as industrial livestock as posing a particular elevated risk[10],[11],[12],[13]. Additionally, climate change could have a further role in increasing the prevalence of infectious outbreaks[14],[15].

Once the situation allows for science-based deliberation, we encourage the global community to accelerate discussions regarding the relation of our food systems with emerging infectious disease (EDI) outbreaks.


More information and useful resources

For further information and guidance regarding food systems and COVID-19, please refer to the following websites and documents:


Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash


[1] The Lancet, Public Health: Armitage, R. and Nellums, L.B. (2020) COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly, DOI:

[2]  High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and nutrition (HLPE) Interim Issues Paper on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN), version 1, 24 March 2020. Accessed on: 31 March 2020. Available at:

[3] Wang D, Hu B, Hu C, et al. Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients With 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China. JAMA. 2020;323(11):1061–1069. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1585

[4] Wu Z, McGoogan JM. Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA. Published online February 24, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.2648

[5] High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and nutrition (HLPE) Interim Issues Paper on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN), version 1, 24 March 2020. Accessed on: 31 March 2020. Available at:

[6] Xiaodong Zhang, Yuan Zhao, Guodong Mu,Economic factors contributing to the outbreaks of indigenous major infectious diseases from domestic animals in China between 2000 and 2016: a multicountry study, The Lancet, Volume 390, Supplement 4, 2017, Page S48, ISSN 0140-6736,

[7] Olival, K., Hosseini, P., Zambrana-Torrelio, C. et al. Host and viral traits predict zoonotic spillover from mammals. Nature 546, 646–650 (2017).

[9] Vidal,Ensia, John. “Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge.” Scientific American. Accessed April 6, 2020.

[10] Allen, T., Murray, K.A., Zambrana-Torrelio, C. et al. Global hotspots and correlates of emerging zoonotic diseases. Nat Commun 8, 1124 (2017).

[11] Rosenberg R. (2015). Detecting the emergence of novel, zoonotic viruses pathogenic to humans. Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS, 72(6), 1115–1125.

[12] Bird, Brian H., and Jonna A.K. Mazet. “Detection of Emerging Zoonotic Pathogens: An Integrated One Health Approach.” Annual Review of Animal Biosciences 6, no. 1 (2018): 121–39.

[13] FAO. “The State of Food and Agriculture. Livestock in the Balance.” Rome, Italy: Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations, 2009.

[14] Europäisches Zentrum für die Prävention und die Kontrolle von Krankheiten, ed. Climate Change and Communicable Diseases in the EU Member States: Handbook for National Vulnerability, Impact and Adaptation Assessments. ECDC Technical Document. Luxembourg: Publ. Off, 2010. Available at:

[15] Liang, Lu, and Peng Gong. “Climate Change and Human Infectious Diseases: A Synthesis of Research Findings from Global and Spatio-Temporal Perspectives.” Environment International 103 (June 1, 2017): 99–108.


  • Sustainable Food System
Agriculture and Fishery, Consumer goods, Ecosystems, Food, Natural Resources, Policy, Systems change