A disturbing report on teens and hunger

Civil Eats – Friday 23rd September

A new study presents heart-breaking evidence of young people’s struggle in America to access “a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” Approximately 7 million young people, aged 10 – 17, live with significant food insecurity. This drives them to do desperate things, including shoplifting, selling drugs and involving themselves in ‘transactional dating’, a sexual relationship with someone older who gives them food and money in return.

The age group is often overlooked in efforts to combat child hunger, in part because they are harder to feed than younger children – school programmes to provide food to them aren’t as successful because as young people, they have become aware of the social stigma associated with hunger and they may actively avoid accessing food through school. Other behaviours also impact their eating: one study found that when school breakfasts are provided early in the morning or only in the cafeteria, many students don’t take advantage of them. Another problem is the quality of school meals, which as we all know, can be notoriously poor – one teenager commented that “They don’t spend to get good food but they can afford them iPads and laptops.” That’s apt comment on the sad state of school priorities.

What is truly shameful about the state of food insecurity among teens is the effort, put in by many state representatives in the largely Republican House, to overturn meaningful efforts to reach children and young people at risk of hunger in the most obvious way possible – through school. Representatives have been working hard to dismantle the national school meal programme which has been immensely successful in stemming hunger, in favour of block grants for states which effectively deregulate the school meal plan and allow states much more control over the funding. This move has been roundly criticised by those fighting to end hunger as it is likely to erode key guarantees of the current programme, such as the automatic qualification of those most vulnerable.

Poor food ‘risks health of half the world’

BBC – Sunday 25th September

A new report on the state of human nutrition across the globe sheds light on the dire state of our food consumption. Poor nutrition is arguably epidemic around the world with under-nutrition joining over-nutrition to leave 2 billion people – nearly a third of the global population – without the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy. If the issue is not addressed, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition says that half the world could be malnourished in 20 years.

Inequality is part of the root cause of our poor nutrition – wealthier people eat better, able to afford access to fresh fruits and vegetables and protein. But across the world, people are also eating more processed food, and as countries are developing, the nutrition problem is moving from one of under-nutrition to over-nutrition. Half of China’s population is now projected to be overweight or obese by 2030.

Processed food is increasingly poor-quality food, delivering on calories but not on the nutrition that is so badly needed. It is also giving rise to the wide array of non-communicable, chronic diseases associated with being overweight and obese. However, on the other side of this issue, hunger could increase dramatically in the next three decades as the global population climbs towards 9 billion. We’ve got ourselves into a desperate double bind and improving access to quality fresh food is a critical step forward towards better eating.

The UN just categorized antibiotics in the food system as a crisis on a par with AIDS and Ebola

Quartz – Thursday 22nd September

The UN is calling a General Assembly ‘crisis’ meeting to discuss the role of animal antibiotic use in the growing public health threat of antimicrobial resistance, pushing the issue to the forefront of concern. The UN has categorised this threat on a par with AIDS and Ebola.

The meeting will shine a spotlight on the prophylactic use of antibiotics that has been rife in industrial farming for many decades. Despite growing awareness of the impending health crisis that antimicrobial resistance is generating, there is still no co-ordinated global strategy for addressing the issue.

In the US, there has been some pressure brought on producers by growing consumer demand for ‘antibiotic-free’ meat and a number of big food companies have responded with voluntary commitments. In the UK, the EFSA has pledged to reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals in the wake of a study which found significant levels of antibiotic resistant E. coli in supermarket chicken and pork. But these measures are not enough. Much more binding legislation is needed.

Global consensus on how to address the overuse of farm antibiotics is difficult because farm practices differ from country to country, as does oversight and regulation of antibiotic use. But antibiotic resistance is spreading and we have an increasingly intractable problem in controlling it, and the heavy regulation of animal antibiotic use is becoming imperative.

Private neonicotinoid studies obtained by Greenpeace

Farming Online – Thursday 22nd September

Greenpeace has published ‘private’ studies carried out by Bayer and Syngenta on the effects of neonicotinoids on bees, which were obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The studies, which confirmed the chemicals had a harmful effect on bees, were designed to identify a ‘safe’ level of neonicotinoid exposure. The studies were not peer reviewed or made public until Greenpeace’s request.

The studies raise questions about the honesty and transparency of these major chemical companies regarding the safety of their products. Greenpeace argues that the evidence in these studies could be useful to other researchers studying the health of bees. Industry executives in biochemical firms have long argued that loss of habitat, disease and climate change have been at the root of pollinators’ decline, and that neonics are safe at low levels. However, the secretive behaviour of these companies regarding their research findings is bound to reduce public trust in their assertions. Shouldn’t the interests of public health be as important as profits?

Australians waste $10bn of food a year and Gen Y is largely to blame, says report

The Guardian – Friday 23rd September

Australians waste $10 billion year on food destined for the bin. A new survey shows that households are throwing out up to 14% of their groceries on average, with profligate Millennials wasting up to 20% of what they buy. The survey also found some interesting impacts on how much people waste – people who don’t think that food production and farming are important waste more food than people who care about this. Food wastage was higher in capital cities than it was in rural areas, where, it could be argued, people have more contact and engagement with farming. And the more disposable income you have, the more wasteful you are likely to be.

That’s where the Millennials fall down – ironically they have a good chunk of disposable income because they’re generally not having to pay a heavy mortgage. They spend their extra cash on eating out and eating well, among other things. They are consequently, at least in Australia, more likely to forget what’s in the fridge in favour of an impromptu night out with friends, which means that whatever was on the menu at home will probably get thrown out. Understanding what it’s taken to produce the food that is getting tossed into the bin, is going to be a key message for Millennials.

Photograph: FMSC

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