Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity (2022)

Leite FHM, Khandpur N, Andrade GC, et al. Ultra-processed foods should be central to global food systems dialogue and action on biodiversity. BMJ Global Health 2022;7:e008269. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2021-008269

This commentary highlights the impact of global diets characterised by a high intake of ultra-processed foods on agrobiodiversity. It calls for prioritising and addressing ultra-processed foods in global food system dialogues and policy, and country-level action.

Summary box

► The global industrial food system and consequent rapid rise of ultra-processed foods is severely impairing biodiversity. Yet although the impacts of existing land use and food production practices on biodiversity have received much attention, the role of ultra-processed foods has been largely ignored.

► An increasingly prominent ‘globalised diet’, characterised by an abundance of branded ultra-processed food products made and distributed on an industrial scale, comes at the expense of the cultivation, manufacture and consumption of traditional foods, cuisines and diets, comprising mostly fresh and minimally processed foods.

► Ultra-processed foods are typically manufactured using ingredients extracted from a handful of high-yielding plant species, including maize, wheat, soy and oil seed crops. Animal-sourced ingredients used in many ultra-processed foods are often derived from confined animals fed on the same crops.

► The contribution of ultra-processed foods to agrobiodiversity loss is significant, but so far has been overlooked in global food systems summits, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences. Ultra-processed foods need to be given urgent and high priority in the agendas of such meetings, and policies and action agreed.


The very rapid rise of ultra-processed foods in human diets will continue to place pressure on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption. Future global food systems fora, biodiversity conventions and climate change conferences need to highlight the destruction of agrobiodiversity caused by ultra-processed foods, and to agree on policies and actions designed to slow and reverse this disaster. Relevant policymakers at all levels, researchers, professional and civil society organisations, and citizen action groups, need to be part of this process.

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