How government subsidies, taxes and restaurants affect our weight

LA Times – Tuesday 5th July

“Do agricultural subsidies make us fat?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Research connecting the dots between the obesity epidemic and agricultural subsidies in the United States is building a clear picture of how farming policies feed poor eating habits. The subsidising of a range of crops used in processed food – corn and soybean in particular – is driving the obesity epidemic, with more than a third of Americans now obese. More than 50% of the food consumed by American adults is linked to subsidised crops. We have a food system in which the government is literally paying for Americans to get fat. We can change this by using subsidies to support the production of fruit and vegetables which are now disproportionately more expensive than processed foods.

Researchers have also been looking closely at the impact of taxation on sugar sweetened beverages in Mexico and the evidence is now growing that it is leading to a reduction in sugary drink purchases. There is a way forward here that these findings point to: stop indirectly subsidising unhealthy food production and instead redirect subsidies to encourage fruit and vegetable production.

Chile fights obesity with new food labelling law

The Salt Lake Tribune – Tuesday 28th June

Chile has just passed the most stringent labelling law in the world. It is requiring labelling of unhealthy foods high in sugar, calories, saturated fat and salt with an unmissable label in large black lettering. It is also banning the sale of such food in schools along with food advertising aimed at children, as well as banning the inclusion of toys in unhealthy food products. It’s a comprehensive, smart, no nonsense approach to stemming obesity in a country that has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world, and it is the first to follow the recommendations made by the World Health Organization. The law could set off a sea change in such measures, with country after country taking meaningful measures to encourage us to eat better.

Britain must urgently prepare for flooding, heatwaves and food shortages, says government report

The Independent – Monday 11th July

Recent news on climate change and its effects in the UK is something of a wake-up call. The release of the latest report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) indicates that keeping to a 2 degree rise in warming is looking unlikely, and we’re already witnessing significant changes in the climate and weather. Flooding, like that which hit Yorkshire last winter, will continue, but expect the death toll from heatwaves to rise as well and drought will bring on water shortages. All this does not bode well for agriculture and for Britain and many other places around the globe, that means food shortages.

Lord Krebs, chair of the CCC, says “it is crucial to prepare for the inevitable changes that will result from the gases that have already been released into the atmosphere” as much as lowering future GHG emissions. That means much better policy focused on mitigating the impacts of flood, heatwaves and droughts and not just in their aftermath. We need to think bigger and smarter about these future weather events and that includes thinking about our soil and its microbial life. Healthy soil can play a hugely significant role in locking up carbon and reducing the rate of global warming.

Global fish production approaching sustainable limit, UN warns

The Guardian – Thursday 7th July

Yet another dire warning has been issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: fish production is reaching its limit of sustainability. Despite this, it’s still projected to grow a further 17% by 2025. We are simply devouring all the fish in the sea, and the UN tells us that some 40% of the fish we like to eat are being caught unsustainably. You might think that, thankfully, the world is increasingly turning to aquaculture and indeed, this is projected to take over from wild caught fish as the source of our fish consumption by 2021. But, as with other types of industrialised farming, there are huge problems with this as well. Aquaculture pollutes waterways, introduces invasive species from break-outs, uses large amounts of antibiotics to control disease which can impact wild populations of fish, and destroys habitat. Currently, sustainability is not a priority for the industry, although clearly it should be.

We have too long taken the bounty of our seas for granted. But like all our natural resources, if we exploit them, we will eventually destroy them, and with current levels of food increasing in line with population growth, long-term sustainability should be at the forefront of our minds.

Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh lead in earmarking special organic farming zones

Times of India – Sunday 10th July

India has been notable in the last few decades for its push to expand organic agriculture throughout the country. Earlier this year, Sikkim became the first organic state in India, with all of its agriculture eschewing the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and no GMOs. In the face of environmental and health problems caused by conventional farming methods, the state’s Chief Minister Pawan Chamling started the transition in 2003, launching a widespread education programme on the value of organic agriculture and passing meaningful legislation to support its spread.  It was a remarkable achievement and offered a vision of what scaled-up organic agriculture could be.

Now organic agriculture is spreading fast across India as more and more states begin to see it as a way forward. With growing consumer demand in India and recognition of the export potential for organic crops, the country is taking a cluster approach to spreading organic agriculture, designating 10,000 special organic zones of 20 hectares each across the country. Farmer’s will receive support for seed purchases, the harvest of crops and transport for produce for a period of three years, helping them to make the transition. This promises yet more organic producers joining the ranks in a country which already has the most organic producers in the world.

Photograph: Global Water Forum

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