Jan. 13, 2015




Report Offers a Framework to Help Policymakers, Researchers, and Other Stakeholders Analyze the Effects of Potential Changes to the U.S. Food System


WASHINGTON – To aid U.S. policymakers and other stakeholders who make decisions about the nation’s food system, a new report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council offers a framework for assessing the health, environmental, social, and economic effects of proposed changes to the system.


Often, making a change that affects one part of the food system for one purpose has consequences – intended or unintended – for other parts of the system, the report says.  For example, a recommendation to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables to promote healthier diets raises questions about the potential environmental or social impacts of increasing their supply, such as driving a greater need for irrigation water or farm labor.  The framework encourages broad and methodical thinking about the complexity of the food system and its relationship to health, environment, society, and the economy.


“We hope this analytical framework will be widely used by researchers, policymakers, and others when they consider alternative policies or potential changes that affect the U.S. food system,” said Malden C. Nesheim, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and provost emeritus and professor of nutrition emeritus at Cornell University. “Such assessments can help ensure that the food system supports the health and the quality of life of our citizens and the sustainability of the environment.”


The report’s framework recommends six steps: identify the problem; define the scope; identify the scenarios; conduct the analysis; synthesize the results; and report the findings. It also includes a set of principles to be considered throughout all steps of the process:


The report also offers six examples to illustrate how the framework might theoretically be applied to analyze actions or policies, including the use of antibiotics in animal feed, policies mandating biofuel blending in gasoline supplies, and recommendations for fish consumption and health.


“The U.S. food system is complex, and when any policies or decisions are made that impact the system, there will be trade-offs,” said Victor Dzau, president of the Institute of Medicine.  “The framework developed by the committee could help foster improved decision-making on how the food system might be better organized, altered, and maintained.”


The study was sponsored by the JPB Foundation. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted in 1863.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit www.national-academies.org.  A committee roster follows.



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Food and Nutrition Board



Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources


Committee on the Framework of Assessing the Health, Environmental, and

Social Effects of the Food System


Malden C. Nesheim (chair)

Professor Emeritus, and

Provost Emeritus

Cornell University

Ithaca, N.Y.


Katherine L. Clancy

Food Systems Consultant

Center for a Livable Future, and

Visiting Scholar and Senior Fellow

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

University Park, Md.


James K. Hammitt

Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences, and


Center for Risk Analysis

Harvard School of Public Health



Ross A. Hammond

Senior Fellow, and


Center on Social Dynamics and Policy

The Brookings Institution

Washington, D.C.


Darren L. Haver

Director and Advisor

Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of California Cooperative Extension

Orange County


Douglas Jackson-Smith

Professor and Director

Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Utah State University



Robbin S. Johnson


Cargill Foundation

Wayzata, Minn.


Jean D. Kinsey

Professor Emeritus of Applied Economics, and

Director Emeritus

The Food Industry Center

University of Minnesota

St. Paul


Susan M. Krebs-Smith

Chief of Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch Applied Research Program

Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

National Cancer Institute

Bethesda, Md.


Matt Liebman

Professor and Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture

Department of Agronomy

Iowa State University



Frank Mitloehner

Associate Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist

Department of Animal Science

University of California



Keshia M. Pollack

Associate Professor

Department of Health Policy and Management

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health



Patrick J. Stover

Professor and Director

Division of Nutritional Sciences

Cornell University

Ithaca, N.Y.


Katherine M.J. Swanson


KMJ Swanson Food Safety Inc.

St. Paul, Minn.


Scott Swinton

Professor and Associate Chair Person

Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics

Michigan State University

East Lansing




Maria P. Oria

Study Director


Peggy Tsai Yih

Senior Program Officer