Transition to a sustainable food system

Current production and consumption of food have come at alarming environmental and health costs (e.g. nitrogen crisis, unhealthy diets). In cooperation with food system stakeholders, this project explores the characteristics of sustainable food systems and pathways to accelerate the transition to a healthy and sustainable food system in the Netherlands.


In the Netherlands, the production of food and non-food is far from climate-neutral at present and insufficiently circular in nature. The nutritional pattern of an average Dutch person leads to a loss of health and pressure on the environment, nature and the climate, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the world. Realising a sustainable Dutch food system requires major changes with respect to, for example, the emission of greenhouse gases, the management and use of natural resources and raw materials and the sustainable consumption of healthy food.

Project description

Research into sustainable food systems requires a collaborative, transdisciplinary approach. Accordingly, the project consortium includes a broad range of expertise in fields such as transition and systems science, biology, ecology, nutrition, governance, sociology, modelling, and design. The project investigates a number of key questions, including:

1. How can the current Dutch food system be defined and delineated: what are the dynamics of, and interactions within, the current food system in the Netherlands? What are the interfaces between the food system and adjacent systems such as water or energy?

2. How can a future sustainable Dutch food system (with any subsystems) be defined? Which new value systems underlie this; on the basis of which characteristics (e.g. on the basis of widely supported sustainability criteria such as the Paris Climate Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity and SDGs) is their success evaluated?

3. How can the transition task take shape in an area-focused approach? How do the many sustainability initiatives in the Netherlands contribute concretely to the transition to a sustainable food system in the Netherlands and beyond?

4. How might a transition from the current system to a new system be achieved, and which control mechanisms (governance instruments) can accelerate this? Where are opportunities (e.g. business cases, scaling up excellent initiatives), which obstacles need to be overcome (e.g. vested interests, path-dependency of established systems), where are paradigmatic tensions, are there ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of such a transition?