Obesity soars to ‘alarming’ levels in developing countries

The Guardian – Friday 3rd January

A report from the Overseas Development Institute has found that since 1980, the number of overweight and obese people in developing countries has tripled to nearly 1 billion, overtaking richer countries by almost double.

What makes this a more complex issue is that whilst large swathes of the developing world faces the problem of under-consumption related malnutrition, the spread of global fast food brands into these regions has brought cheap food options that are high in industrially-processed meat, fat, sugar and salt. All the worst parts of our Western food culture.

As the report’s authors sensibly point out, “Trajectories are not preordained; there is scope to influence the evolution of diet to get better outcomes for health and agriculture.” However, they also acknowledge that governments have so far been timid about staking out positions on diet. As ODI research fellow Steve Wiggins points out, ‘Who wants to take on the food industry?’ But since it is governments, rather than the food industry, left picking up the bill for the negative public health outcomes, we rather think more governments need to dig deep, and pursue policies that protect public health rather than the profits of global corporations.

Cereal numbers: Will GMO-free Cheerios capture a new market?

Grist –  Friday 3rd January

The debate surrounding genetically modified foods continues in the US, with campaigns for food labelling laws gaining momentum across the country. Last year, the restaurant chain Chipotle revealed that they would be phasing out the use of GMO ingredients and following in their footsteps is General Mills, who have announced that their original Cheerios will not contain any GMO ingredients. However, as Nathanael Johnson points out, genetically modified oats, the main ingredient in Cheerios, do not exist. In fact Cheerios is a quick-win product in the sense that only small amounts of GMO-free corn-starch and sugar needed to be replaced. In spite of this, it took over a year to source sufficient quantities of non-GMO ingredients to ensure production, so whilst this announcement is definitely a step in the right direction, it also highlights how difficult it is for huge multi-national product retailers to step outside of the existing system, and have it be cost effective. As Johnson says ‘it’s hard to turn the aircraft carrier.’

Make food and drink corporations ‘account for water usage’, says scientist

The Independent – Sunday 5th January

Following on from our December conference on True Cost Accounting in Food and Farming, we’re very pleased to see the topic of ‘true cost’ gaining the momentum it deserves in the media.

Professor Tony Allan believes that major companies and supermarkets should formally record their water usage, and recognise the hidden costs of production. Citing the shocking statistic that 90 per cent of water used by society is taken up by food production. Mr Allan highlights the fact that all countries that rely on irrigation for food-production are currently in trouble. From China to North-East India, these are regions that the UK has come to rely on for food imports, in effect exporting the environmental damage caused by water-intensive methods of production. As Mr. Allan says, “We have access to their ecosystem and we don’t have to pay a bean. It is all economically invisible and politically silent,” he said. “We need to get accountants and chief executives and senior people in government to recognise that what we are doing is very bad for the environment.”

Owen Paterson: Embrace GM or risk becoming ‘museum of world farming’

The Guardian – Tuesday 7th January

Owen Paterson has made headlines again this week by suggesting that unless the UK embraces GM technology, we risk being left behind. But is being left behind such a bad thing? The UN recently formed the International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which found that ‘a return to indigenous systems of farming and managing land’ could in fact help to protect biodiversity.

These methods, such as using rice paddies to raise fish, often use fewer pesticides and can also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiversity is essential when it comes to food security, and the importance of it should not be ignored in the race for technology.

Photograph by Ilona Loser

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