Food Systems Creating Public Health Disaster
Global food systems are making people sick, and Olivier De Schutter is taking them to task for it. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food warns that current food manufacturing and agricultural practices are causing a public health disaster. In a new report, he writes: “For society, the costs are huge, directly in medical care and indirectly in lost productivity.”
De Schutter cites the culprit as being an “obesogenic environment,” a term public health analysts use to identify the multiple factors that have caused the global obesity pandemic.
Commenting on the report, De Schutter said:
Urbanization, supermarketization and the global spread of modern lifestyles have shaken up traditional food habits….Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed.
De Schutter focuses on five of the factors that have led to an obesogenic environment and suggests addressing them by:
- taxing unhealthy products;
- regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar;
- cracking down on junk food advertising;
- overhauling misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others; and
- supporting local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.
While both the food industry and industrial agriculture continue to search for high-tech, high-profit solutions to health, hunger and sustainability issues, De Schutter cautions:
We should not simply invest our hopes in medicalizing our diets with enriched products, or changing people’s choices through health warnings. We need ambitious, targeted nutrition strategies to protect the right to adequate food, and such strategies will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right.
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