Understanding the Three Components of a Food System

The three components of a food system are production, distribution and consumption. Learn more about how these components work together to create a sustainable food system.

Understanding the Three Components of a Food System

The Food system is a complex network of activities that involve production, processing, transportation, and consumption. It is the central technical and political aspects of these activities that are shown around the three components of production, distribution, and consumption. Issues related to the food system include the governance and economics of food production, its sustainability, the degree to which we waste food, how food production affects the natural environment, and the impact of food on individual and population health. Moving to sustainable food systems, including by switching from consumption to sustainable diets, is an important component in addressing the causes of and adapting to climate change.

The 100-mile diet, low-carbon diet, and slow food movement have all been associated with the food system. Additionally, concerns about transparency and traceability have increased due to food safety issues such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Conventional food systems have enabled lower food costs and a greater variety of foods.

The food system is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, attributable to between 21 and 37% of global emissions. It belongs to agri-food systems which encompass the full range of actors and their interrelated value-added activities in primary production of agricultural food and non-food products, as well as in storage, aggregation, post-harvest handling, transportation, processing, distribution, marketing, disposal and consumption. Organic food systems are characterized by less dependence on chemical inputs and a greater concern for transparency and information. Organic agriculture is promoted by the ecological benefits of reduced application of chemicals, the health benefits of lower consumption of chemicals, the economic benefits that farmers obtain through a price premium, and the social benefits of greater transparency in the system alimentary.

The need to reduce production costs in an increasingly global market may cause food production to move to areas where economic costs (labor, taxes, etc.) are lower. A sustainable food system is a type of food system that provides healthy food to people while creating environmentally, economically and socially sustainable food systems that surround it.