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May 23, 2022

The global food trade's impact on biodiversity

Research upends assumptions about how biodiversity fares in low-income countries

In this week’s Nature Food, Michigan State University researchers find that imports from high-income countries benefit biodiversity in low-income countries.

The findings in their paper “International food trade benefits biodiversity and food security in low-income countries” fly in the face of conventional wisdoms:  that high-income countries harm biodiversity in low-income countries by importing food from them, and yet low-income countries, particularly those with biodiversity hotspots, were increasingly becoming net importers themselves.

Two MSU sustainability scholars from the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability looked at the growing complexities of global food trade for a better understanding of the interactions and impacts of growing food to feed the world and protecting some of the most precious natural resources.

“Understanding the interrelationships between food security and biodiversity is essential to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said CSIS director Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and co-author. “Our work seeks to understand how we can achieve global food security to feed a growing population without sacrificing biodiversity in the telecoupled world.”

Countries that are growing both in population and wealth demand more food, and often turn to importing foods. Countries that are increasing their food exports, which often means converting their lands to farms or pastures, can find it results in damage to the environment and biodiversity.

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By: Sue Nichols