The role of nitrogen in achieving sustainable food systems for healthy diets

Glob Food Sec. 2021 Mar:28:100408. doi: 10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100408.


The 'food system' urgently needs a sustainable transformation. Two major challenges have to be solved: the food system has to provide food security with healthy, accessible, affordable, safe and diverse food for all, and it has to do so within the safe operating space of the planetary boundaries, where the pollution from reactive nitrogen turned out to be the largest bottleneck. Here we argue that thinking strategically about how to balance nitrogen flows throughout the food system will make current food systems more resilient and robust. Looking from a material and a governance perspective on the food system, we highlight major nitrogen losses and policy blind spots originating from a compartmentalization of food system spheres. We conclude that a participatory and integrated approach to manage nitrogen flows throughout the food system is necessary to stay within regional and global nitrogen boundaries, and will additionally provide synergies with a sustainable and healthy diet for all.

Publication types

  • Review