The United States has fallen from third to 11th place in the latest edition of an index that measures food security.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index (GFSI) examines the drivers and causes of food security in developed and developing countries. It looks at 113 nations, based on food affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience.

The main challenges to food security are the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inequality and climate change risks.

The report is based on research by The Economist Intelligence Unit between April and September 2020.

Top in quality and safety
North America was the top-performing region in the 2020 index. Overall, Canada was one place behind the U.S. in 12th while it was 8th in 2019.

North America’s strongest performance is in the food quality and safety category. It measures variety and nutritional quality of the average diet, national policies for nutrition and food safety mechanisms. In this bracket, Canada ranks at the top of the index and the U.S. shares second with Austria, out of 113 countries.

“Food safety is likely to play an increasingly important role in the future. As awareness of the risks of obesity grows, consumers are seeking more diverse diets. Increasing demand for perishable foods like fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products (in turn reducing carbohydrate intake) is resulting in an increased need for food safety infrastructure, such as cold chains,” according to the index.

Pratima Singh, project lead for the GFSI at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, have tested the food system and exposed vulnerabilities.

“We need to address the structural inequalities — economic, social and environmental — that were a fundamental feature of the pandemic. Governments and policymakers, NGOs, and the private sector all have a role to play as we aim to recover from the impact of COVID-19 on economies and food systems and invest in innovation to strengthen our global food environment,” said Singh.

Overall picture
The overall global food security environment deteriorated for the second year in a row in 2020. Using the new methodology, 62 countries saw their performance drop compared with 2019.

Finland tops the rankings, followed by Ireland, Netherlands and Austria with Czech Republic, the UK, Israel and Japan all above the U.S. Singapore, which had been top for the previous two years, fell to 19th. However, Yemen remains one of the least food secure countries with heightening fears of a famine while Sudan, Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia are all near the bottom.

James C. Collins Jr., CEO of Corteva Agriscience, a company that sponsors the index, said: “Corteva believes that it is crucial for all stakeholders to have an honest conversation about insights and solutions to address global food insecurity, and the GFSI sits at the heart of it.”

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