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Innovation can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system


Future technologies and systemic innovation are critical for the profound transformation the food system needs. These innovations range from food production, land use and emissions, all the way to improved diets and waste management. Here, we identify these technologies, assess their readiness and propose eight action points that could accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable food system. We argue that the speed of innovation could be significantly increased with the appropriate incentives, regulations and social licence. These, in turn, require constructive stakeholder dialogue and clear transition pathways.

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Fig. 1: Future technologies with transformation potential.
Fig. 2: Technological readiness of future food system technologies.
Fig. 3: Essential elements for accelerating the systemic transformation of food systems.


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M.H., D.M.-D., J.P.J., J.R.B., G.D.B., M.T.C., C.D., C.M.G., M.G., C.L.M., J.N., M.B.P., M.J.R. and S.M.S. acknowledge funding from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; P.T., B.M.C., A.J. and A.M.L. acknowledge funding from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which is carried out with support from the CGIAR Trust Fund and through bilateral funding agreements (see The views expressed in this document cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of these organizations. B.L.B. acknowledges funding from the NAVIGATE project of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 821124, and by the project SHAPE, which is part of AXIS, an ERA-NET initiated by JPI Climate, and funded by FORMAS (SE), FFG/BMWFW (AT), DLR/BMBF (DE, grant no. 01LS1907A-B-C), NWO (NL) and RCN (NO) with co-funding by the European Union (grant no. 776608); P.P. acknowledges funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (grant agreement no. 01DP17035); M.C. acknowledges funding from the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet Our Health (Livestock, Environment and People), award number 205212/Z/16/Z; J.S.G., P.S. and P.C.W. acknowledge funding from the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI DEVIL project (grant no. NE/M021327/1); A.P. acknowledges funding from the NAVIGATE project of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 821124, and by the project SHAPE, which is part of AXIS, an ERA-NET initiated by JPI Climate, and funded by FORMAS (SE), FFG/BMWFW (AT), DLR/BMBF (DE, grant no. 01LS1907A-B-C), NWO (NL) and RCN (NO) with co-funding by the European Union (grant no. 776608).

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M.H., P.K.T., D.M.C., J.P. and J.B. designed the research. M.H., P.K.T., D.M.C., J.P., A.H., B.L. and K.N. wrote the manuscript. M.H., P.K.T., D.M.C. J.P., J.B., C.G., K.D. and J.N. analysed data. All authors contributed data and edited the paper.

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Correspondence to Mario Herrero.

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Supplementary methods, discussion and Tables 1,2.

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Herrero, M., Thornton, P.K., Mason-D’Croz, D. et al. Innovation can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system. Nat Food 1, 266–272 (2020).

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