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Rising food prices are hard to digest - Which? (2013)

Rising food prices are hard to digest - Which? (2013) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Rising food prices are increasing the pressure on already squeezed consumers, exclusive Which? research reveals, and supermarkets and politicians need to do more to make it easier for people to tackle the rising cost of living. 


Ahead of the start of the Labour party conference and with the cost of living a theme for all political parties, new research from Which? shows eight in ten shoppers (78%) are concerned about the increasing cost of food. Yet about the same amount of people (77%) say their household income has stayed the same or decreased in the same period. Nearly half (45%) of shoppers say they are spending a larger proportion of their income on food compared to 12 months ago. 

 

The average weekly household grocery bill is £60; it's £80 for a family of four. Two-thirds of people say this has increased in the past year, blaming rising food prices. Shoppers are most aware of staples, such as meat, fresh vegetables and bread, increasing in price... 

 

Food prices have risen in real terms by 12% over the last five years. If the price of food continues to increase: Six in ten (60%) say they are concerned about how they will manage their future spending. Four in ten (41%) tell Which? the cost of food is a source of stress. Three in ten (29%) saying they are struggling to feed themselves or their family because of costs.

 

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “While people seem to have accepted their grocery bill going up, stagnating incomes and rocketing food prices are causing stress and worry and leaving people wondering how they are going to cope.

 

“Supermarkets need to make it much easier for consumers to spot the best deal by ensuring pricing is simple and making special offers good value for money. Politicians need to put consumers at the heart of their economic policies to tackle the rising cost of living and fuel growth and prosperity.”

 

*An online survey of 2,028 GB adults in June 2013.

 

http://www.which.co.uk/news/2013/09/rising-food-prices-are-hard-to-digest-334082/

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The note that this was an "online survey of 2,028 GB adults" does not convey a lot of information about how reliable and robust these results are -- as this is not said, I'd asume it was not representative, though...

 

Still, perhaps it is an indication that even in rich countries food prices matter more than is often thought -- i.e. policy-makers (and the voters themselves) need to think carefully about ways to keep food prices at bay. Not least, this could mean that promising technologies should not be discarded prematurely (for what e.g. in the case of agricultural biotechnology are essentially political or lifestyle reasons). 

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Rethinking the Measurement of Undernutrition in a Broader Health Context: Should We Look at Possible Causes or Actual Effects? - Stein (2014) - Global Food Security

Rethinking the Measurement of Undernutrition in a Broader Health Context: Should We Look at Possible Causes or Actual Effects? - Stein (2014) - Global Food Security | Food Policy | Scoop.it

When measuring food and nutrition security, focusing on proxy indicators such as food availability, or on selected head count figures such as stunting rates, gives an incomplete picture. Outcome-based global burden of disease (GBD) studies offer an alternative for monitoring the burden of chronic and hidden hunger. Judging by this measure, the international goal of halving global hunger between 1990 and 2015 has already been achieved.

 

Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) that are used as metric in GBD studies can be converted into more easily understood monetary terms. The resulting estimate of the annual cost of global hunger of up to 1.9 trillion international dollars may be better suited to illustrate the magnitude of the remaining problem...

 

It is pertinent to recall why we are concerned about hunger and malnutrition: because of the negative consequences it has for people’s health and well-being. Food and nutrition insecurity is usually defined in terms of what determines hunger... However, to measure hunger... the outcome of food and nutrition insecurity, i.e. the burden of disease that is caused by hunger, should be used...

 

One challenge when trying to measure health outcomes of undernutrition is the multitude of adverse health consequences that can be attributed to hunger, in particular to micronutrient deficiencies... Therefore the question is whether health can be measured in a consistent way across such diverse outcomes. To make the burden imposed by different health outcomes comparable... the World Bank introduced the concept of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)...

 

The WHO used DALYs to quantify the global burden of disease (GBD), for which it reported results at the country level and for a range of health outcomes. Based on these readily available data, DALYs can be used to quantify the global burden of hunger... A more recent GBD study... represents an improvement since it covers more causes and risk factors of poor nutrition... per year more than 160 million DALYs are lost due to hunger, which is more than 6 percent of the total burden of disease...

 

While... using DALYs to measure hunger is a better approach... one challenge for the use of DALYs is their abstractness: what exactly is a “disability-adjusted life year”? ... One way of illustrating the magnitude of the burden of hunger is to express it in money... While there are obvious problems with the monetization of social costs... it offers a coherent framework that permits conducting the kind of broad analyses and comparisons that are needed to guide policy making...

 

Using this approach produces an estimate for the global cost of hunger of Int$1.9 trillion per year, or 2.4 percent of world income. One indication that the global cost of hunger falls indeed into the trillion-dollar range is the estimate for the worldwide cost of undernutrition of US$1.4 trillion to US$2.1 trillion that the FAO gives... using a very different approach...

 

The “cost” of hunger is an opportunity cost, i.e. it provides an estimate for the additional annual national income that society foregoes by not solving undernutrition... One estimate of the costs that would have to be incurred to reach more than 80 percent of the world’s undernourished children with key nutrition interventions suggests this could be as (relatively) little as $10 billion a year, i.e. only one-hundredth of the current cost of hunger...

 

It is interesting to compare the estimate of the number of hungry people with that of the number of DALYs lost due to hunger over time. Judging by the FAO’s indicator, the achievement of MDG 1 is not very likely. However, if the objective was indeed more generally to “reduce hunger by half”, this has already been achieved – if hunger is measured using DALYs... in 1990 the burden of hunger was 320 million DALYs lost, but by 2010 this burden had already shrunk by half to 160 million DALYs lost...

 

The discrepancy in the assessment of the development of global hunger if based on food availability versus actual health outcomes might be surprising, but as... discussed above, food availability is but one determinant of (or input into) hunger, whereas DALYs measure the outcome of hunger that results from all inputs combined. In this case – in the presence of other, uncorrelated inputs into hunger that change over time – an indicator that monitors only one input is bound to show a different development than an indicator that measures the final outcome...

 

Not least in light of the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda... it is important that agreed-upon targets can be operationalized based on indicators that allow precise monitoring of progress… Stakeholders in food and nutrition security need to be aware of the advantages of outcome-based measures like DALYs... those working on GBD studies should pay more attention to undernutrition and to related health risks, and more frequent updates of the GBD or relevant subsets could further increase the usefulness of DALYs...

 

Using DALYs to quantify the burden of hunger has shown that the international efforts to improve global welfare are bearing fruit and that progress in the fight against undernutrition has been more rapid than is generally believed. Still, the problem of global hunger remains unresolved, and its magnitude becomes especially apparent when approximated in more familiar monetary terms. With more detailed, country-level DALYs data becoming available, further research can determine in which countries and for which nutrition-related health outcomes the biggest reductions in the burden of hunger have been achieved – and it can help explain why...

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2014.09.003

 

Audio-slides, 4 min.: http://audioslides.elsevier.com/ViewerSmall.aspx?doi=10.1016/j.gfs.2014.09.003

 

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Biofortification of wheat, rice and common bean by applying foliar zinc fertilizer along with pesticides in seven countries - Ram &al (2016) - Plant Soil

Biofortification of wheat, rice and common bean by applying foliar zinc fertilizer along with pesticides in seven countries - Ram &al (2016) - Plant Soil | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Zinc (Zn) deficiency represents a common micronutrient deficiency in human populations, especially in regions of the world where staple food crops are the main source of daily calorie intake. Foliar application of Zn fertilizer has been shown to be effective for enriching food crop grains with Zn to desirable amounts for human nutrition.

 

For promoting adoption of this practice by growers, it is important to know whether foliar Zn fertilizers can be applied along with pesticides to wheat, rice and also common bean grown across different soil and environmental conditions. 


The feasibility of foliar application of zinc sulphate to wheat, rice and common bean in combination with commonly used five fungicides and nine insecticides was investigated under field conditions at the 31 sites-years of seven countries, i.e., China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, Brazil and Zambia. 


Significant increases in grain yields were observed with foliar Zn/foliar Zn + pesticide over yields with no Zn treatment... Grain Zn enrichment with foliar Zn, without or with pesticides, was almost similar in all the tested crops. 


The results... revealed that foliar Zn fertilization can be realized in combination with commonly-applied pesticides to contribute Zn biofortification of grains in wheat, rice and common bean. This agronomic approach represents a useful practice for the farmers to alleviate Zn deficiency problem in human populations.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11104-016-2815-3

 

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Food imports rise as Modi struggles to revive rural India - Reuters (2016)

Food imports rise as Modi struggles to revive rural India - Reuters (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a late night meeting with food and farm officials last week to address falling agricultural output and rising prices, and traders warn the country will soon be a net buyer of some key commodities for the first time in years. Back-to-back droughts, the lack of long-term investment in agriculture and increasing demands from a growing population are undermining the country's bid to be self-sufficient in food.


That is creating opportunities for foreign suppliers in generally weak commodity markets... The long term impact on commodity markets could be significant. Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year... 


India's entry into the market as a net importer is good news for suppliers like Brazil, Argentina, the United States and Canada, which are suffering from a global commodity glut. India's move to import corn, for example, has supported global prices... The next big import item on the list could be oilmeals, an animal feed, which India used to export in large quantities until last year... 

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/india-farming-idUSKCN0VA3NL

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Interesting, first India blocks the cultivation of a domestic GM vegetable (eggplant/brinjal), and with it all other efforts to develop better crops through genetic engineering, and now it buys maize on the world market, where a good share of it is GM -- and it may buy oilmeals next, which are often from soybeans, which are mostly GM. (And if it sources non-GM supplies, this will not only cost it more, it will also drive up prices for non-GM in general -- instead of selling non-GM soybeans itself.) In the medium term, perhaps a better approach would be to embrace GM not only for Bt cotton, where Indian production was boosted considerably after the introduction, but also for other crops. 

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How to feed 11 billion people: Addressing the 21st century's biggest challenge - EARTH (2016)

How to feed 11 billion people: Addressing the 21st century's biggest challenge - EARTH (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

In April 2008, violent protests erupted across the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti. Enraged by soaring food prices and all-too-frequent hunger pangs, protesters smashed windows, looted shops, barricaded streets with blazing cars and stormed the presidential palace in the capital... The week of violence, during which five people were killed, flared after the cost of staples like beans and cooking oil spiked dramatically and the price of rice nearly doubled in four months, increasing hardships in a nation where 80 percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day. So-called “food riots” aren’t restricted to the Caribbean. Between 2006 and 2008, as the cost of food, fuel oil and other commodities surged to levels not experienced in almost three decades, disturbances erupted around the planet. Large – and frequently violent – protests broke out in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Although many factors, like high unemployment, political frustration and poverty, contribute to social unrest, the timing of the 2007-2008 turbulence correlated clearly with peaks in global food prices… When the index decreased later that year, social unrest also declined.  In the past, price spikes like these have usually been short-lived… Things typically evened out quickly as global trade shifted grain from countries with surpluses to those with deficits, and farmers responded to higher prices by increasing planting. But in 2007-2008, the world’s grain harvests were close to record-setting levels. Unlike in the past… this time the increased prices – and the ensuing violence – were due to the fact that the world was running out of food.

 

Feeding the world today is a daunting challenge; in the future, as global population skyrockets, it is likely to be a Herculean task. But researchers around the world are working on the problem, including how to implement the many changes that must happen locally at the farm level to effect large-scale change. But first, farmers need information. And that’s where science comes in. Last summer, the planet’s population reached 7.3 billion. Of these, 795 million people lack enough food to lead healthy, active lifestyles… In addition, more than 2 billion people currently suffer from “hidden hunger” – deficiencies in micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron – that can lead to blindness, stunted growth and restricted cognitive development. The world’s population is projected to reach… 11 billion by 2100… the planet’s population is unlikely to stabilize this century… These numbers add up to roughly 75 million more mouths to feed each year. Add to that the increasing demand for grain from livestock to feed increasingly meat- and dairy-rich diets, as well as from biofuels, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, and all told… the global food demand will rise more than 60 percent above 2005 levels. Other estimates suggest that number may be as high as 110 percent…

 

Rapidly increasing productivity is a big challenge, which will only be made more challenging by a changing climate that could bring increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising water levels along coasts, and larger and more frequent extreme-weather events… The global food system contributes nearly one-third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. As a driving force behind climate change, it creates a vicious cycle that will be difficult to break. Compounding these issues is the fact that agricultural production also impacts the environment through loss of biodiversity, degradation of soils, and pollution and use of sparse freshwater resources. How we meet the planet’s growing demand for food, while simultaneously mitigating agriculture’s environmental impacts, will be one of the 21st century’s greatest challenges. Fortunately, the number of tools and technologies available to help humanity tackle this challenge is increasing… Scientists and managers have had access to increasingly detailed geospatial datasets like global crop yields and harvest frequencies, and insights from these data have transformed the field. “They revolutionized agronomy”…

 

http://www.earthmagazine.org/article/how-feed-11-billion-people-addressing-21st-centurys-biggest-challenge

 

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New thinking, supply-side reform stressed in agriculture modernization - Xinhua (2016)

New thinking, supply-side reform stressed in agriculture modernization - Xinhua (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

China will apply its new concept of development to agricultural modernization to make the process more efficient, inclusive and environment-friendly, according to a policy document... The document by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, vowed "marked progress" in agriculture by 2020 to ensure society becomes moderately prosperous... The "No. 1 central document" is the name traditionally given to the first policy statement of the year and is seen as an indicator of policy priorities.

China will improve the quality and competitiveness of its agricultural products through high-quality farmland and professional farmers catering to the demands of modern agriculture. At least 53 million hectares of high-quality farmland will be created by 2020... Training for farmers, increased investment in technology, modernization of the seed sector and diverse business entities and models will increase the pace of change... 

Sustainability will come through improved efficiency of resource use and environmental protection. Policies and technological support will protect resources and raise efficiency, preventing resources from over-exploitation... China will tighten water resource management... New national standards on food safety will be prioritized and standards on pesticides residues and veterinary drugs will reach the international standards... 

The government will encourage rural workers to find jobs or establish their own businesses in nearby regions. The migrant rural labor force will be stabilized and rural workers will be offered support to start businesses in their hometowns. County-level economies and rural service industries will be improved, while more training will be offered to rural workers.

Household registration ("hukou") reform that will see 100 million rural workers secure urban residential status must be expedited. Basic public services should be expanded to cover all permanent residents in cities with education and housing benefits for migrant workers. 

 

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-01/27/c_135051295.htm

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Another year in which the "No. 1" document focuses on agriculture and rural development -- incl. increased investment in technology and the modernisation of the seed sector. 

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Global nitrogen footprint mapped for first time - U Sydney (2016)

Global nitrogen footprint mapped for first time - U Sydney (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Four countries cause almost half the world’s emissions, with developing countries tending to suffer local pollution caused by foreign demand... the United States, China, India and Brazil are responsible for 46 percent of the world's nitrogen emissions. The [study...] traced the flow of emissions from 188 countries, noted a trend for increased nitrogen production and found wealthy nations largely responsible for pollution abroad caused by local consumption... Developing countries tend to embody large amounts of nitrogen emissions from their exports of food, textiles and clothing...


The economic modelling, which grouped the nitrogen footprint into top-ranking bilateral trade relationships, noted a trend for increased nitrogen production and found developed nations largely responsible for emissions abroad for their own consumption... significant nitrogen net importers were almost exclusively developed economies.

“High-income nations are responsible for more than 10 times the emissions of the poorest nations... This reflects greater consumption of animal products, highly processed foods and energy-intensive goods and services.” The vast bulk of emissions came from industries such as agriculture, transport and energy generation. Emissions from consumers-end use were mostly from sewage.

Findings of the research of 2010 data includes... Per-capita nitrogen emission ranged from more than 100 kg annually for wealthy nations such as Hong Kong and Luxembourg, to less than 7 kg for developing nations such as Papua New Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia...

 

http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2016/01/26/global-nitrogen-footprint-mapped-for-first-time.html

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2635

 

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Local markets could provide farmers with new crop varieties - UEA (2016)

Local markets could provide farmers with new crop varieties - UEA (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

A major new study... has found that small, family farmers in Africa purchase more than half of their seeds through local markets and other informal sources – neglected outlets that present a major opportunity for improving access to better crop varieties.

 

The ability to provide access to new seed varieties is crucial to dealing with climate, nutrition, and other production challenges in a region where food security remains a major concern... 


The study... examined some 10,000 seed transactions across five African countries and Haiti... found that, contrary to conventional thinking, most smallholder farmers in Africa – the continent’s dominant producers... – are not reliant on seeds saved from year to year. Instead, some 55 per cent of seed they plant a year is purchased, mainly from local markets or from fellow farmers... 

Local markets were found to be particularly important... In contrast, a relatively small proportion of transactions – 2.4 per cent overall with no country higher than 17.4 per cent – involved ‘certified seed’ produced by private sector companies and sold through farm supply stores...

“Innovations in crop science will be of little value to smallholder farmers if they are not matched by innovations in seed delivery... We need to see the formal sector more firmly focused on serving the needs of smallholder farmers and it is especially important to realize the potential of local markets as a source for seeds. Our research shows that local markets are used by most farmers and especially the more vulnerable. Yet local markets receive almost no attention from development professionals or governments.

“There are a range of tried-and-tested approaches for integrating seed channels, such as licensing seed sales through more diverse outlets, enhancing the quality and diversity of seed provided through local markets, or developing information systems to link farmers and merchants more effectively... Such innovative approaches urgently need to be scaled up and tested more extensively. They show huge potential to reach vulnerable farmers, and deliver to them the seed they need for food and nutrition security”... 

In contemporary Africa... international institutions and national governments are... developing new crop varieties specifically intended to help smallholder farmers deal with a range of challenges. Varieties that soon could be available include beans that can withstand high temperatures, potatoes that are resistant to late season blight, and maize that can tolerate droughts, which are becoming more common due to climate change.

“Our work is significant because it indicates smallholder farmers are far more likely to purchase seed rather than rely on saved seed... The challenge is that most of their purchases are going through informal channels like local markets, which don’t have access to many of the new crop varieties that could help farmers improve nutrition and adapt to climate change.”

Formal seed producers and sellers would be wise to embrace the smallholder farmer as their core customer and... seeds for new crop varieties would reach more farmers if they were available in supermarkets and small, “mom and pop” stores...

 

https://www.uea.ac.uk/about/-/local-markets-could-provide-african-farmers-with-new-crop-varieties ;

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12571-015-0528-8

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The main messages of the authors seem clear:


1) To a large extent smallholders in Africa do not save seeds from year to year – but purchase the seeds they need! 


2) New and improved seed varieties are paramount for smallholders in Africa to improve nutrition and adapt to climate change. 


3) The challenge for innovative seed developers is to improve seed delivery by integrating new (and more informal) seed distribution channels and by linking farmers and seed dealers more effectively. 


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There have always been shady people cutting your food with garbage - Grist (2016)

There have always been shady people cutting your food with garbage - Grist (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

I’ve known for years that... a cheap jar of honey is probably a fake jar of honey. Maybe not all fake. But honey is expensive, and the supply chains are long and obtuse enough that people could add a little corn syrup here and there along the way with little chance of repercussions. And so they do... 

But there never was a more simple, trustworthy time. Fakery may feel like a modern phenomenon, a hazard of the globalization of food networks that has – so far – brought us marvels like the mafia-related horsemeat scandal in Europe and melamine in pet food and baby formula...  

Exhibit A: A treatise on adulteration of food, and culinary poisons, exhibiting the fraudulent sophistications of bread, beer, wine, spirituous liquors, tea, oil, pickles, and other articles... which I stumbled across when I was searching for old food books... Published in 1820 in London, the treatise was a surprise bestseller. (A thousand copies sold in the first month! At a time when only a little over half of Great Britain’s population was literate!) ... It’s not hard to see why the book went viral. For one thing, there are the illustrations... 


Accum’s treatise is a window into a world where urbanization and mass-production of food first began to widen the distance between producer and consumer. As the number of middlemen in the food trade increased, so did the number of bakeries that cut flour costs by mixing their dough with chalk or sawdust. Same with brewers who added strychnine to their beer; it was cheaper than hops, but with the same tart flavor... 

Soon enough, Accum had competition. There was Bumpus and Griffin’s The Domestic Chemist: Comprising Instructions for the Detection of Adulteration in Numerous Articles... published in 1831. And there was the Food and Drug Administration’s Manual... with the Food and Drug Inspection of the Bureau of Chemistry (1911)...

Random testing of goods on supermarket shelves reveals a world where food fraud is still common. Maple syrup is often fake. Olive oil is often fake. The technology to catch fakery exists, but it’s expensive to use, and it can usually only show you something that a researcher suspects is there. Melamine evaded detection for so long because no one thought to test for it, and it may still be floating around in the food system.

Today, searching out food fraud is less about expensive testing than it is about old fashioned detective work – poring over shipping records, in particular... Such tools are likely to remain a step behind the fraudsters they are trying to expose. That makes the 21st century less different from the 19th than we’d like to think. In both eras, technology is only as good as the questions that the person using it thinks to ask. 

 

http://grist.org/food/garden-of-eatin-2/

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Also see: 

A Brief History of Food Coloring and Its Regulation 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2009.00089.x

"...  The proliferation of bread tainted with deleterious white colorings spawned one of the oldest surviving instances of food adulteration regulations, from the time of King Edward I (1272 to 1307)... Other early coloring laws include a 1396 French edict against coloring butter, and a 1574 French law that forbade coloring in pastries to simulate the presence of eggs. Despite the threat of punishment, laws like these were generally ignored due to the difficulty of enforcement and the simple fact that there was, and still is, a lot of money to be made by deceiving consumers... In 1820, English chemist Friedrich Accum was the first to bring this growing problem to the public's attention with his publication of A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons..." 

 

 

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Align trade and agricultural development policies better to achieve food security - FAO (2015)

Align trade and agricultural development policies better to achieve food security - FAO (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Rules governing international trade of food and agricultural products should be crafted with an eye to improving countries' food security and other development objectives. For this, a pragmatic approach that would align agricultural and trade policies at the national level is needed... 

The expected increase in global trade of farm products along with shifting patterns of trade and multiples sources of risks to global supplies will give trade and its governance a heightened influence over the extent and nature of food security everywhere... 

FAO report aims to reduce the current polarization of views on agricultural trade, wherein some insist that free trade leads to more available and accessible food while others, noting the recent bout of volatile food prices, insist on the need for a more cautious approach to trade, including a variety of safeguards for developing countries... 

The role of trade varies enormously with country characteristics, such as income, economic and landholding structure, the stage of agricultural development and the degree of integration of farmers in global value chains. Amid such variety in country conditions, international rules for formulating national trade policies should be supportive of efforts to mitigate disruptions that affect any of the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability.

Balancing short-run and long-run objectives is becoming vitally important considering that the nature of disruptions varies enormously and that market shocks will likely become more frequent due to geopolitical, weather and policy-induced uncertainties. While efforts to intervene and shield domestic markets from global price volatility could in fact lead to increased domestic price volatility, agricultural incentives play an important role in in boosting agricultural production and efficiency and fostering broader economic growth.

The global trade arena has changed notably in the past decade, with trade in food alone nearly tripling in value terms, driven in particular by fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy products – all high-value categories where standards are typically more important than in staple commodities such as cereal grains... 

Latin America has become the largest net exporter of food, replacing North America, and ushering in a new political map of South-South trade flows... Agricultural commodity imports tend to be dispersed among many countries, exports are concentrated in a few – such as Brazil with sugar, or the United States with coarse grains – which makes supply more vulnerable to sudden disruptions... 

New and subtler dynamics are increasingly driving trade patterns, including the emergence of global value chains and vertical integration within agricultural production and marketing. Such developments, wherein market power and standardization may matter as much as price, raise questions about the assumption of competitive markets and traditional efforts to harness comparative advantages, although participation in value chains also offer important income-generating opportunities to smallholder farmers.

The "supermarket revolution" in many developing countries is also changing the balance... On the one hand, retail chains often procure goods directly, shaking up habits as shown by the rapid halving of the market share of the top three banana-trading multinational companies from 70 percent in 2002 to 37 percent today. On the other hand, while supermarkets tend to benefit lower-income urban consumers, producers may suffer if they lack the ability to make investments necessary to meet volume, cost, quality and consistency standards.

The... report offers a nuanced counterpoint to the often ideological clash between advocates of protected and open markets, which often stem from differences in the definitions of trade and food security. In reality, countries may seek to follow different strategies along the policy continuum from prioritizing own production towards relying on more open markets at different times in their development trajectory, depending on how their circumstances change over time.

Moreover, the distinction between formally protected and liberal markets often fades due to the way trade rules are actually implemented... Appropriate policies often depend on the extent to which national markets are developed and behave competitively and offer participants tools to manage risk. Where these conditions do not yet apply, "domestic support policies should not be rejected out of hand"... 

Mainstreaming food security – itself a function of multiple sectors of economies that change over time – into the trade policy decision-making process is a way to make trade an "enabler" of sustainable development and the core goal of eradicating hunger.

 

http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/357439/icode/

 

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Welfare impact of higher maize prices when allowing for heterogeneous price increases - Levin & Vimefall (2015) - Food Pol

Welfare impact of higher maize prices when allowing for heterogeneous price increases - Levin & Vimefall (2015) - Food Pol | Food Policy | Scoop.it

We explore the short-term welfare impact of higher maize prices on different regions and socioeconomic groups in Kenya... Approximately 80% of the population would be negatively affected by higher maize prices and... poor households would lose a larger proportion of their welfare than wealthy households... Rural landless households would lose the most, whereas households with landholdings of five acres or more would gain.

 

We simulate a 25% increase in maize prices and find that rural poverty would increase by approximately 1 percentage point and urban poverty by 0.5 percentage points. Moreover, the impact differs among regions; poverty would increase by 3 percentage points in the rural parts of Coast Province, whereas it would be almost unchanged in the rural parts of Western Province.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2015.08.004

 

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More meat eating risks climate chaos - SciDev (2015)

More meat eating risks climate chaos - SciDev (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Growing meat consumption in developing countries poses a significant climatic threat, with meat demand by emerging middle classes expected to rise 76 per cent by 2050...

 

Meat consumption is responsible for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as all the world’s vehicles. The study calls for more education and interference by governments to curb meat eating around the globe and make animal husbandry more sustainable.  

 

“Ahead of [the Paris summit], we’ve seen over 160 countries submit their national pledges outlining what they’re going to do to tackle climate change, and unsustainable diets aren’t mentioned in any of those”... Without changing diets it would be impossible to meet international goals to curb global warming...

Beef production alone generates 56 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of meat produced... Demand for meat products is booming across Africa, Latin America and the Middle East – where meat is considered an important part of a meal and is becoming increasingly more affordable.

Using data from surveys around the world... the report concludes that governments may be overestimating public resistance to dietary policies. Basing efforts to reduce meat consumption on antismoking campaigns would maximise their chance of success... This would mean focusing on the other big concern with eating meat: its link with health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

“We could close the emissions gap by a quarter just by shifting to healthier diets with lower meat consumption... So this should be a really positive public policy avenue.”  But regional problems might scupper such efforts, as developing countries prioritise other issues, including food security and economic crises. In Brazil... the powerful meat industry is opposed by a weak government, which means a health campaign is likely to fail. 


The data from the report also shows that meat consumption increases rapidly as countries develop, but flatlines when average incomes reach around US$25,000 a year, before declining in the wealthiest countries. The report puts this down to higher education and awareness of health issues and climate change in these countries.

 

http://www.scidev.net/global/climate-change/news/meat-eating-risks-climate-chaos.html

 

Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption - Wellesley &al (2015) - Chatham House:  https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/changing-climate-changing-diets

 

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To Save the Earth, Better Nitrogen Use on a Hungrier Planet Must be Addressed - Princeton (2015)

To Save the Earth, Better Nitrogen Use on a Hungrier Planet Must be Addressed - Princeton (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

The global population is expected to increase by two to three billion people by 2050, a projection raising serious concerns about sustainable development, biodiversity and food security... more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers may address both environmental issues and crop production...

Fertilizers containing synthetic nitrogen... is needed to produce high crop yields. Plants take the nitrogen they need to grow, and the excess is left in the ground, water and air. This results in significant emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse and ozone depleting gas, and other forms of nitrogen pollution, including eutrophication... of lakes and rivers and contamination of drinking water... What’s needed is a more efficient use of fertilizer, which will benefit both food production and the environment...

The first to globally analyze “nitrogen use efficiency” – a measure of the amount of nitrogen a plant takes in to grow versus what is left behind as pollution. Looking at fertilizer and crop harvest data in regions like the United States, Western Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers examined how policies and market conditions have influenced farmers’ use of nitrogen fertilizers over the past five decades... 

The global average for nitrogen use efficiency is approximately .4, meaning 40 percent of the total nitrogen added to cropland goes into the harvested crop while 60 percent is lost to the environment. To reduce environmental impacts, the researchers urge an increase in global average nitrogen use efficiency... To achieve this goal, the researchers provide examples of specific targets in 2050 for various regions that take into account differences in ecological and socioeconomic conditions...

In early stages of agricultural development in most countries, farming technology does not lead to a more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, the researchers found. Because most farmers are profit-maximizing, how they use fertilizer is influenced by price. Therefore, market signals such as the prices of fertilizer and crops, as well as government subsidies play a very powerful role.

At later stages of development, however, technology can improve nitrogen use efficiency. In the United States, for example, crop yields have increased over the past two decades without substantial increases in fertilizer use. This was only possible by adopting technologies that increased nitrogen use efficiency... more strategic irrigation, improved seed sources, slow-release fertilizers and better online planning tools... the growth of soybeans, a plant able to produce its own nitrogen, also plays a role.

Government policies have been more effective at increasing nitrogen use efficiency in Western Europe... The Nitrates Directive... limiting farmers’ use of manure and the application of fertilizers near water or on slopes to reduce water contamination. This significantly increased nitrogen use efficiency while also improving crop yields. The turning point... began in the late 1980s and through the early 2000s, directly coinciding with changes in the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, which contains several monetary and regulatory policies designed to reduce nitrogen application on cropland.

At the other extreme, countries like China and India have gone downhill in terms of nitrogen use efficiency, owing to heavily subsidized fertilizers... Because fertilizer is so cheap... farmers tend to use excess quantities to insure higher crop yields. China also produces increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables, which generally lead to more nitrogen in the ground and air... China’s nitrogen use efficiency has been steadily decreasing leaving it now among the lowest in the world with excess nitrogen leading to substantial environmental degradation.

“China now recognizes the human health consequences of environmental degradation, and they are making impressive efforts to reduce emissions of traditional air pollutants... But in a similar way, excess nitrogen application on crops is contaminating their air, groundwater and rivers in part because they over-subsidize fertilizers.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is an entirely different story... crop yields are low mainly due to the lack of access to nitrogen fertilizer, which is often unaffordable and difficult for farmers to obtain. In this case, fertilizer subsidies could actually help increase crop production without leading to significant environmental degradation. Providing African countries with access to better farming technologies and fertilizer could help feed their growing populations without bringing additional land under cultivation and with minimal other environmental effects...

The authors stress that the solution isn’t entirely technological. “A lot of this comes down to understanding the sociology and economics behind farmer decision-making... We need to figure out how to help farmers adopt technologies that reduce pollution while still producing their needed profit outcomes.”

One way to address growing global food needs is through stronger collaborations and investments in research and human resources... This will facilitate knowledge sharing, creating political and market environments that help incentivize the development and implementation of more efficient agricultural management technologies...

 

http://wws.princeton.edu/news-and-events/news/item/save-earth-better-nitrogen-use-hungrier-planet-must-be-addressed

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature15743

 

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Agricultural policy: Govern our soils - Montanarella (2015) - Nature

Agricultural policy: Govern our soils - Montanarella (2015) - Nature | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Eighty years ago, in 1935, soils were for the first time officially recognized as a limited national resource that should be responsibly managed. In the wake of the catastrophic erosion that caused the infamous Dust Bowl drought, the US government passed the Soil Conservation Act... Between 1982 and 2007, soil erosion in US cropland declined by 43%. 

The history now being written in the world's soils is not so rosy. Every year, 75 billion tonnes of crop soil are lost worldwide to erosion by wind and water, and through agriculture; this costs about US$400 billion a year. Only a few countries have national legislation protecting soil, including Germany and Switzerland. Attempts at binding international legal agreements have so far failed.

This cannot go on. Soils are a limited natural resource, unequally divided between nations and people. They provide fertilizer for growing food; store and filter water; host rich ecosystems, including many little-known species; provide resources such as peat, sand, clay and gravel; and hold our cultural and historical memory in archaeological artefacts. The ground beneath our feet is a public good and service.

Without governance to assure wise management and equitable access, we are heading towards increased poverty, hunger, conflict, land grabs and mass migration of displaced populations, such as that seen during the Great Depression. The world now stands at a moment of opportunity. A Global Soil Partnership (GSP) exists, and could implement a voluntary system of global governance. But the GSP needs to develop clear, concrete proposals for action to secure more funding and move forwards... 

Good-quality soils are necessary for the food, fibre and fuel of a growing population. That makes soil – like air and water – a shared resource that requires governance. And, because most soils are indeed privately held, legally binding international agreements are unrealistic. Instead, governance must be based on voluntary efforts by national governments, local land owners and administrations.

Progress so far has been disappointing. In 1982, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adopted a World Soil Charter with 13 recommendations for sustainable soil management. It enshrines some basic principles such as: “the use of these resources should not cause their degradation or destruction because man's existence depends on their continued productivity”. That charter was endorsed by all members of FAO (nearly all national governments). It remains largely ignored. 

The dramatic rise in food prices during the 2008 global food-commodities crisis finally raised the attention of policymakers. That led to the creation in 2011 of the FAO's GSP: a voluntary body tasked with finally enacting the soil charter's principles...

The GSP is the best current option for driving forward those recommendations, despite its shortcomings. The partnership needs to motivate all invested parties to develop commitments to specific actions. These should enshrine soil management in legislation tailored to each country's needs. The GSP needs to prove that it can be more than just a talking shop, and can generate political will and raise funding. The FAO has suggested an initial budget of $64 million over five years for the GSP, mainly to help to develop the Global Soil Information System and to promote training and capacity building in developing countries. So far, less than 10% of that has been raised from donors, mainly the European Commission.

Increasingly, people speak of 'soil security', in analogy with food and water security. In a world facing increasing stress from a growing, hungry population and changing climate, soils will become ever more important.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/528032a

 

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Do Cash Transfers Promote Food Security? The Case of the South African Child Support Grant - d'Agostino &al (2016) - MPRA

This paper evaluates the causal effect of the Child Support Grant (CSG) implemented in South Africa on household food consumption and dietary diversity... Our results show that the CSG have proved to be effective in increasing total food expenditure per adult equivalent but has not significantly changed the dietary habits of the beneficiary households, nor has the program resulted in any stronger effect for the most vulnerable subgroups of the beneficiary population... 

 

The current design of the CSG, which only provides a small grant for each beneficiary child, and its strategy of gradually raising the eligible population, has not been appropriate to guarantee a significant reduction of deprivation for the most vulnerable households. A more effective approach would be to implement a specific, comprehensive strategy to reduce food insecurity and deliver additional grants and ancillary social services to the most vulnerable households... 

 

http://econpapers.repec.org/RePEc:pra:mprapa:69177

 

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Do Fertilizer Subsidies Improve Household Food Security? A Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis from Malawi - Mkwara (2016) - Global Soc Welfare

Do Fertilizer Subsidies Improve Household Food Security? A Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis from Malawi - Mkwara (2016) - Global Soc Welfare | Food Policy | Scoop.it

In recent years, a number of Sub-Saharan African countries have resumed farm input subsidies in order to stimulate farm level fertilizer application, enhance food security and alleviate poverty. In this study, spatial analysis is employed to examine whether fertilizer subsidies improve household food security in Malawi.


Results suggest that household food security is heavily skewed with the south lagging behind the centre and the north. With regard to distribution of subsidised fertilizer, it is recommended that the areas with higher potential for maize production should be prioritised over those with less potential. It is also suggested that there is a need to ensure that the subsidy programme is guided by a properly formulated strategy that indicates an exit period... 


Maize production in Malawi is positively linked to fertilizer subsidies... At household level, food security is heavily skewed with the south of the country lagging behind the centre and the north... There is spatial autocorrelation between maize production and location. The central region stands out as the main country’s food basket as far as maize production is concerned... There is high correlation between subsidised fertilizer and maize production per administrative area suggesting that targeting the region would be more beneficial than a countrywide fertilizer subsidy programme.


In places where maize fails to do well, encouraging smallholders to diversify into other crops or small-scale businesses may help increase their income and food buying power. This may also save government revenue through reduced subsidies that are currently extended to the majority of smallholders including those in areas where maize production is hampered.

 

Apart from fertilizer subsidies, rainfall is a significant factor in the country’s maize production. Unfortunately, substantial reliance on rain-fed agriculture has partly led to the country’s failure to achieve long lasting maize production and food security. It has therefore been suggested that the country should implement wide-scale irrigation schemes for sustainable production of maize and other crops, especially given than the country is well endowed with water from rivers and lakes. 

 

Lastly... there is a need to ensure that the subsidy programme is guided by a properly formulated strategy that indicates an exit period. A 10-year subsidy period has been suggested during which smallholder farmers could be prepared to either go commercial or invest away from agriculture into small-to-medium scale businesses.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40609-016-0044-6

 

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How 'more food per field' could help save our wild spaces - U Cambridge (2016)

How 'more food per field' could help save our wild spaces - U Cambridge (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Increased farm yields could help to spare land from agriculture for natural habitats that benefit wildlife and store greenhouse gases, but only if the right policies are in place. Conservation scientists call on policymakers to learn from working examples across the globe and find better ways to protect habitats while producing food on less land.

Agricultural expansion is a leading cause of wild species loss and greenhouse gas emissions. However, as farming practices and technologies continue to be refined, more food can be produced per unit of land – meaning less area is needed for agriculture and more land can be 'spared' for natural habitats... Conservation scientists warn that, without the right policies, higher farm yields could be used to maximise short-term profits and stimulate greater demand...

Conservationists... are calling on policymakers to harness the potential of higher-yield farming to spare land for conservation, instead of solely producing more food... The authors describe a series of "land-sparing mechanisms" that link yield increases with habitat protection, such as land-use zoning and smart subsidy schemes... Previous research... has shown sparing land for nature by producing more food per field is the "least worst option" for both biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions...

"Sparing tracts of land as natural habitat is much better for the vast majority of species than a halfway house of lower-yielding but 'wildlife-friendly' farming, and we have recently shown that in the UK land spared through high-yield farming could even sequester enough greenhouse gases to mitigate the UK's agricultural emissions"... 

However... policies to encourage higher farm yields need to avoid the 'rebound effect'... The rebound effect for higher yields could see food prices drop, encouraging greater consumption, more food waste and even more conversion of habitats to farmland. Higher yields may also increase the cost of conservation if they allow farmers to earn more per field... 

"Making space for nature is largely a question of societal and political priorities... The challenge is less whether it's possible to reconcile farming and conservation, than whether those with power are willing to make it a priority." 

 

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/how-more-food-per-field-could-help-save-our-wild-spaces

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aad0055

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Without the right policies, higher farm yields could be used to maximise short-term profits and stimulate greater demand, resulting in less wilderness and more unnecessary consumption..."


>> The question is what "unnecessary" is -- having pineapples in the UK year round might be considered unnecessary, and until 20 years ago people were perfectly happy e.g. without mobile phones... Therefore using such judgemental terms in a scientific context is a bit questionable (and it points to a pre-existing bias or conflict of interest). Some people might be happy to reduce their consumption to conserve wilderness, while others might prefer to consume more and have less wilderness. That's a political choice and not a scientific one. 


Having said that, it is of course great to read that conservationists agree that agricultural practices that use more land, rather than less (such as organic agriculture), are actually bad for the environment...  

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Could a Few Billionaires Close the World's Poverty Gap? - Atlantic (2016)

Could a Few Billionaires Close the World's Poverty Gap? - Atlantic (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

This week, the richest business leaders and investors from around the world have gathered... for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. In keeping with tradition, a small portion of the agenda will be devoted to global development and the plight of people living at the other end of the global income distribution.

Philanthropy is one way of linking the fortunes of these disparate communities. What if some of the mega-rich could be persuaded to redistribute their wealth to the extreme poor? This question may feel hackneyed, but it deserves a fresh hearing in light of a dramatic reduction in the global poverty gap over the past several years. The theoretical cost of transfers required to lift all poor people’s income up to the global poverty line of $1.90 a day stood at approximately $80 billion in 2015, down from over $300 billion in 1980... 

This reduction can be unpacked into two parts. The first is a steep decline in the number of people living below the global poverty line. This is increasingly recognized as one of the defining features of the era... The second and lesser-known factor is the shrinking average distance of the world’s poor from the poverty line. Despite this good news, global poverty still demands attention. Hundreds of millions of people continue to suffer this most acute form of deprivation. In several countries, the prospects for ending poverty over the next generation... appear challenging at best... 


The bulk of official foreign aid is used in the provision of public goods, such as physical infrastructure and strengthening institutions... The main source of transfers to the poor is welfare programs run and financed by developing countries themselves. These social safety nets have emerged as an increasingly prominent instrument... Several countries are in the process of building the apparatus for more accurate targeting and authentication through the assembly of beneficiary registries and the rolling out of identity programs. In at least 10 developing countries, social safety nets have succeeded in establishing a social floor... In the vast majority, however, safety nets are insufficiently targeted or generous for that purpose... 

 

A complementary approach is to consider the role of private mechanisms and wealth. NGOs were among the original pioneers of cash transfers in the developing world... Its approach has received strong endorsements from independent charity assessors and has been validated by impact evaluations. Yet the scale of its existing donations remains tiny relative to the global poverty gap... What difference could a philanthropic donation from the world’s richest people make?

To explore this question, we begin by identifying those developing countries that are home to a least one billionaire... Let’s assume that the richest billionaire in each country agrees to give away half of his or her current wealth among his or her fellow citizens, disbursed evenly over the next 15 years... Transfers would be sustained at the same level for the full 15-year period with the aim of providing a modicum of income security that might allow beneficiaries to sustainably escape from poverty by 2030... 

In... Colombia, Georgia, and Swaziland... a single individual's act of philanthropy could be sufficient to end extreme poverty with immediate effect... In Brazil, Peru, and the Philippines, poverty could be more than halved... In other countries – Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Angola – the potential impact on poverty is only modest... The depth of poverty in Africa remains high, with 15 percent of the population living on less than $1.00 a day; and... Africa has relatively high prices compared to other poor regions, which means more dollars are required to deliver the same amount of welfare.

For those nations that have more than one billionaire, an alternative scenario is that the country’s club of billionaires makes the pledge together and combines resources to tackle domestic poverty. This would end poverty in China, India, and Indonesia – countries that rank first, second, and fifth globally in terms of the absolute size of their poor populations... 


This exercise is of course laden with simplifying assumptions... This exercise is intended to provoke discussion, not to provide definitive figures... What is less contestable is that a falling global poverty gap presents an opportunity for more systematic efforts for poverty reduction...  

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/01/billionaires-poverty-gap/425055/

 

 

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Influence of extreme weather disasters on global crop production - Lesk &al (2016) - Nature

Influence of extreme weather disasters on global crop production - Lesk &al (2016) - Nature | Food Policy | Scoop.it

In recent years, several extreme weather disasters have partially or completely damaged regional crop production. While detailed regional accounts of the effects of extreme weather disasters exist, the global scale effects of droughts, floods and extreme temperature on crop production are yet to be quantified.

 

Here we estimate... national cereal production losses across the globe resulting from reported extreme weather disasters during 1964-2007. We show that droughts and extreme heat significantly reduced national cereal production by 9-10%, whereas our analysis could not identify an effect from floods and extreme cold in the national data...

 

We find that production losses due to droughts were associated with a reduction in both harvested area and yields, whereas extreme heat mainly decreased cereal yields. Furthermore, the results highlight ~7% greater production damage from more recent droughts and 8-11% more damage in developed countries than in developing ones...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature16467

 

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No food is healthy. Not even kale - WaPo (2016)

No food is healthy. Not even kale - WaPo (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Not long ago, I watched a woman set a carton... Fat-Free Half-and-Half on the conveyor belt at a supermarket. “Can I ask you why you’re buying fat-free half-and-half?” ... “Because it’s fat-free?” she responded. “Do you know what they replace the fat with?” ... “Hmm,” she said, then lifted the carton and read the second ingredient on the label after skim milk: “Corn syrup.” She frowned at me. Then she set the carton back on the conveyor belt... 


The woman apparently hadn’t even thought to ask herself that question but had instead accepted the common belief that fat, an essential part of our diet, should be avoided whenever possible.

Then again, why should she question it, given that we allow food companies, advertisers and food researchers to do our thinking for us?

 

“This country will never have a healthy food supply,” said... a gleeful cynic when it comes to the American food shopper. “Never. Because the moment something becomes popular, someone will find a reason why it’s not healthy”... the most dangerous term of all: “healthy.”

We are told by everyone, from doctors and nutritionists to food magazines and newspapers, to eat healthy food.

 

We take for granted that a kale salad is healthy and that a Big Mac with fries is not. I submit to you that our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious... The kale itself, while in the ground, may have been a healthy crop. But the kale on your plate is not healthy, and to describe it as such obscures what is most important about that kale salad: that it’s packed with nutrients your body needs. But this is not strictly about nomenclature. If all you ate was kale, you would become sick.

 

“‘Healthy’ is a bankrupt word”... Our food is not healthy; we will be healthy if we eat nutritious food. Words matter. And those that we apply to food matter more than ever... Here is a word we think we understand: protein. Protein is good, yes? Builds strong muscles, has positive health connotations. That’s why “protein shakes” are a multibillion-dollar business. Pork cracklings do not have positive health connotations because we think of them as having a high fat content. But pork cracklings are little more than strips of fried pig skin... composed almost entirely of protein... When these strips of pig skin are fried, most of the fat is rendered out and the connective tissue puffs... 


“Refined” is another critical food word. Generally, refined means elegant and cultured in appearance, manner or taste, or with impurities removed. Yet that is what food companies have been calling wheat from which the germ and bran have been removed, leaving what is in effect pure starch, devoid of the fiber, oils, iron and vitamins that make wheat nutritious. That’s not refined... “that’s stripped.” Flour stripped of the nutrition that makes it valuable to our bodies but reduces shelf life. 


Because it has been stripped, we must “enrich” it. “Enriched.” “Fortified.” Good, yes? To make rich, to make strong. Food companies added the iron they took out during the refining process, but not enough of what we need. “Refined flour... resulted in B vitamin and iron deficiencies... so they added vitamins and iron. And what do they call that? Enriched and fortified. But they forgot to add folate, vitamin B9, until the 1990s”... 


We will be healthy if we eat nutritious food. Our food is either nutritious or not. We are healthy or we are not. If we eat nutritious food, we may enhance what health we possess. This is not a judgment on what you choose to eat... just know what it is you’re putting in your body and why... 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/2016/01/15/4a5c2d24-ba52-11e5-829c-26ffb874a18d_story.html

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Indeed. And that's why the UN defined food security as people having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life... 

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Kulthum Kamorudeen's curator insight, January 25, 8:05 AM

Always checking the ingredients on the food we buy is really essential. While shopping for food recently, I spent so much time reading the labels, that a fellow customer felt the need to educate me on the edibility of the food (which was funny). But It's not a habit I would drop anytime soon, you would be surprised by the ingredients in some food-stuff we consume. 

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Global Update and Trends of Hidden Hunger, 1995-2011: The Hidden Hunger Index - Ruel &al (2015) - PLoS One

Global Update and Trends of Hidden Hunger, 1995-2011: The Hidden Hunger Index - Ruel &al (2015) - PLoS One | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals – also termed hidden hunger – are pervasive and hold negative consequences for the cognitive and physical development of children.

This analysis evaluates the change in hidden hunger over time in the form of one composite indicator – the Hidden Hunger Index (HHI) – using an unweighted average of prevalence estimates... for anemia due to iron deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, and stunting (used as a proxy indicator for zinc deficiency). Net changes from 1995-2011 and population weighted regional means for various time periods are measured.

Globally, hidden hunger improved (-6.7 net change in HHI) from 1995-2011. Africa was the only region to see a deterioration in hidden hunger (+1.9)... East Asia and the Pacific performed exceptionally well (-13.0), while other regions improved only slightly. Improvements in HHI were mostly due to reductions in zinc and vitamin A deficiencies, while anemia due to iron deficiency persisted and even increased... 

For informing and tracking the impact of policy and programmatic efforts to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, to advance the global nutrition agenda, and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)... there remains an unmet need to invest in gathering frequent, nationally representative, high-quality micronutrient data... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143497

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"the country-level annual HHI scores represent a composite index... of the prevalence of each micronutrient deficiency. The three micronutrients are equally weighted... where the HHI score = [iron deficiency-amenable anemia (%) + vitamin A deficiency (%) + stunting (%)] / 3. The HHI score is rescaled to range from 0 (best) to 100 (worst)." 

 

Perhaps I'm missing something, but such an equally weighted index basically says that the suffering and loss of functioning imposed on a person by iron deficiency is equal to the suffering and loss of functioning imposed on a person by vitamin A deficiency. And also the suffering and loss of functioning of people suffering from light and severe vitamin A deficiency is also treated equally? 

 

That is, once somebody is categorised as deficient in iron, zinc or vitamin A, their suffering and loss of functioning is all assumed to be equal, no matter that the health outcomes of these deficiencies are very different and that each deficiency can also be marginal (close to the cut-off for determining the prevalence rate) or much more severe (which again triggers different health outcomes). 

 

Couldn't this open the perverse incentive for policy-makers e.g. to channel all funds away from fighting zinc and vitamin A deficiency (which have a higher mortality rate) and towards combating iron deficiency? Then those people who die from zinc and vitamin A deficiency will not show up in the prevalence rate (and the index) any longer, while the progress on reducing iron deficiency will reduce this rate (and the index), too. "Success." 

 

I didn't re-read in detail the original paper this index is based on (Muthayya et al. 2013), but their use of DALYs indicates that in their work they do take the differences between the different deficiencies and the differing severities within each deficiency into account -- and IMHO DALYs are exactly the metric that lends itself to the measurement and comparison of such differing health outcomes and to the construction of related indices: 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2014.09.003

http://www.ifpri.org/publication/rethinking-measurement-undernutrition-broader-health-context

 

 

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The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans - Appleby & Key (2015) - PNS

The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans - Appleby & Key (2015) - PNS | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Vegetarians... constitute a significant minority of the world's population. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume dairy products and/or eggs, whereas vegans do not eat any foods derived... from animals. Concerns over the health, environmental and economic consequences of a diet rich in meat and other animal products have focussed attention on those who exclude some or all of these foods from their diet.

 

There has been extensive research into the nutritional adequacy of vegetarian diets, but less is known about the long-term health of vegetarians and vegans. We summarise the main findings from large cross-sectional and prospective cohort studies in western countries with a high proportion of vegetarian participants.


Vegetarians have a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity and a lower risk of IHD... whereas the data are equivocal for stroke. For cancer, there is some evidence that the risk for all cancer sites combined is slightly lower in vegetarians... but findings for individual cancer sites are inconclusive. Vegetarians have also been found to have lower risks for diabetes, diverticular disease and eye cataract.


Overall mortality is similar for vegetarians and comparable non-vegetarians, but vegetarian groups compare favourably with the general population. The long-term health of vegetarians appears to be generally good, and for some diseases and medical conditions it may be better than that of comparable omnivores...


http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0029665115004334


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Global biomass production potentials exceed expected future demand without the need for cropland expansion - Mauser &al (2015) - Nature Communications

Global biomass production potentials exceed expected future demand without the need for cropland expansion - Mauser &al (2015) - Nature Communications | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Global biomass demand is expected to roughly double between 2005 and 2050. Current studies suggest that agricultural intensification through optimally managed crops on today’s cropland alone is insufficient to satisfy future demand.

 

In practice though, improving crop growth management through better technology and knowledge almost inevitably goes along with (1) improving farm management with increased cropping intensity and more annual harvests where feasible and (2) an economically more efficient spatial allocation of crops which maximizes farmers’ profit...

 

Without expansion of cropland, today’s global biomass potentials substantially exceed previous estimates and even 2050s’ demands. We attribute 39% increase in estimated global production potentials to increasing cropping intensities and 30% to the spatial reallocation of crops to their profit-maximizing locations. The additional potentials would make cropland expansion redundant. Their geographic distribution points at possible hotspots for future intensification.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms9946

 

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Global food system faces multiple threats from climate change - UCAR (2015)

Global food system faces multiple threats from climate change - UCAR (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Climate change is likely to have far-reaching impacts on food security throughout the world, especially for the poor and those living in tropical regions... Warmer temperatures and altered precipitation patterns can threaten food production, disrupt transportation systems, and degrade food safety, among other impacts. As a result, international progress in the past few decades toward improving food security will be difficult to maintain.

“If society continues on a path of high emissions of greenhouse gases, there is no way around the fact that climate change is going to be a primary challenge for producing and distributing food... If society lowers emissions, climate change will still be a stressor on food security, but other factors such as socioeconomic conditions could be more critical.”

The report focuses on identifying climate change impacts on global food security through 2100... Food security – the ability of people to obtain and use sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food – will be affected by several factors in addition to climate change, such as technological advances, increases in population, the distribution of wealth, and changes in eating habits.

“Changes in society and changes in climate will both be critically important to food security in the coming decades... This means we have to do a better job of anticipating possible changes in income, governance, inequality, and other factors, and a better job understanding how they interact with food security and climate change.”

Among the report’s key findings:

 

- The impact of climate change on crop and livestock productivity is projected to be larger for tropical and subtropical regions... Wealthy populations and temperate regions are less at risk, and some high-latitude regions may temporarily experience productivity increases, in part because of warmer temperatures and more precipitation. However, if society continues to emit more... greenhouse gases... even those regions will face damaging outcomes during the second half of this century.


- Climate change has important implications for food producers and consumers in the United States. The nation is likely to experience changes in the types and cost of food available for import. It can also expect to face increased demand for agricultural exports...

 

- Climate change risks extend beyond agricultural production to critical elements of global food systems, including processing, storage, transportation, and consumption. For example, warmer temperatures can have a negative impact on food storage and increase food safety risks...

 

- Risks to food security will increase with a higher magnitude and faster rate of climate change. In a worst-case scenario... the number of people at risk of undernourishment would increase by as much as 175 million by 2080 over today’s level of about 805 million... 

 

- Society can take steps to reduce the food system’s vulnerability to climate change... Such adaptations, however, may be difficult to implement in some regions due to availability of water, soil nutrients, infrastructure, funding, or other factors.

 

https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/18185/global-food-system-faces-multiple-threats-climate-change

 

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Better Nutrition for Better Lives - IPS (2015)

Better Nutrition for Better Lives - IPS (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Food systems are increasingly challenged to ensure food security and balanced diets for all... Almost 800 million people are chronically hungry, while over two billion people suffer from “hidden hunger,” with one or more micronutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile, over two billion people are overweight... and hence more vulnerable to non-communicable diseases.

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century does not simply involve increasing food availability, but also improving access, especially for the hungry. Creating healthy, affordable and sustainable food systems for all is the most effective way to achieve this.

 

Since 1945, food production has tripled as average food availability per person has risen by 40 per cent. But despite abundant food supplies, almost 800 million still go hungry every day... Many more go hungry seasonally or intermittently. Hunger affects their ability to work and to learn. Clearly, the problem is not just one of food availability, but also of access. 

The health of over two billion people is compromised because their diets lack essential micronutrients, which prevents them reaching their full human potential. “Hidden hunger,” or micronutrient deficiencies, undermine the physical and cognitive development of their children, exposing them to illness and premature death.

Ironically, in many parts of the world, hunger co-exists with rising levels of obesity. Over two billion people are overweight... This, in turn, exposes them to greater risk of diabetes, heart problems and other diet-related non-communicable diseases. 

Food systems must become more responsive to people’s needs, including food insecure, socially excluded and economically marginalized households.... Adequate nutrition during the “first thousand days,” from conception to the child’s second birthday, is especially critical. 

Our challenge then is not simply to produce and supply more food, but to ensure that better food is consumed... And this has to be sustainable... Food production has often put great stress on natural resources – exhausting fresh water supplies, encroaching on forests, degrading soils, depleting wild fish stocks and reducing biodiversity...


Strong political commitment is required to prioritize nutrition and to improve food systems. Food system policies, programmes and interventions should always strive to improve diets, nutrition and people’s access to and consumption of foods adequate in quantity and quality – in terms of diversity, nutrient content and safety.

Food production research and development should focus on ensuring more diverse, balanced and healthy diets, including more nutrient-rich foods, as well as ecological and resource sustainability. Natural resources must be used more efficiently, with less adverse impacts, by getting more and better food from water, land, fertilizer and labour.

Nutrient dense foods, such as milk, eggs and meat, are improving diets for many, while livestock continues to provide livelihoods for millions. Yet, livestock production and consumption need to be more sustainable, with far less adverse effects on climate change, disease transmission and overall health.

Such food system reforms need to be accompanied by needed complementary interventions, including public health, education, employment and income generation, as well as social protection to enhance resilience. Governments, consumers, producers, distributors, researchers and others need to be more involved in the food system.

Better nutrition also makes economic sense. About five per cent of global economic welfare is lost due to malnutrition in all its forms owing to foregone output and additional costs incurred. Expenditure to address malnutrition offers very high private and social returns. Yet... less than one per cent of foreign aid goes to nutrition. It is hard to justify not making the desperately needed investments in better nutrition for better lives.

 

http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/better-nutrition-for-better-lives/

 

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To beat hunger, shift from food quantity to diet quality - Cornell Chronicle (2015)

To beat hunger, shift from food quantity to diet quality - Cornell Chronicle (2015) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

The biggest food challenge today is not hunger but nutritional deficiency. That’s the conclusion of Cornell food security experts who spoke at the National Press Club... “We’re near end of the period during which we should have achieved the U.N. Millennium Development Goals”... They’ll be replaced with Sustainable Development Goals by the end of December with the overriding goal to end poverty and malnutrition by 2030.

“Extreme poverty and hunger has been reduced even though more than 800 million worldwide still suffer from hunger and 40-50 million Americans are food insecure”... More food is available but much is without the minerals and vitamins essential for optimal physical and mental growth. In developing countries the result is stunted growth and mental weakness.

Food scientists and economists know the problem isn’t food availability, but the public and press don’t... “My concern is the media narrative hasn’t changed in 40 years. The story needs to be there aren’t enough minerals and vitamins in the diets poor people eat. A hidden hunger is the dominant form of food insecurity. We have to tell the press and people to shape a debate focusing on diet.”

Some solutions the experts suggest:

 

- Develop business models that ensure micronutrient rich foods are available especially in remote geographic regions and for populations facing conflict where food shortages are intense...

 

- Increase the focus on diet quality, timeliness and delivery of food products... Transportation and power systems are basic needs... and need to be put in place simultaneously with advances in food productivity and quality.

 

- Put more money into research to increase productivity and reduce prices of food commodities like fruits and vegetables instead of into basic food staples... 


- Change the food value chain from an economics chain where profit is most important to a nutritional chain in which the goal is to improve nutritional value of food...


“The Green Revolution was successful because it enabled more food to be available... It reduced caloric deficiencies but paid less attention to micronutrient deficiencies. Now we must shift the paradigm from food quantity to diet quality”...

 

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/11/beat-hunger-shift-food-quantity-diet-quality

 

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Crop Yields and Global Food Security. Will Yield Increase Continue to Feed the World? - van Ittersum (2015) - Eu Rev Ag Econ

Crop Yields and Global Food Security. Will Yield Increase Continue to Feed the World? - van Ittersum (2015) - Eu Rev Ag Econ | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Tony Fischer, Derek Beyerlee and Greg Edmeades jointly represent more than 100 years of expertise in agronomy, crop physiology and agricultural economics... put together a great book summarising and reviewing the developments in crop yields and their effect on global food security. As the sub-title of the book reveals, they also look ahead into the next decades.

The book has been written in the context of the question whether progress in crop yield is sufficient to meet the future demand for staple crops (i.e. an estimated 60 per cent higher in 2050 than in 2010) without substantial increases in real prices. After an introduction of this question and definitions of the key concepts, the book reviews the progress in yields of the world's major commodities... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbv034

Reviewed book: http://aciar.gov.au/biblio/mn158

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

From the book: "In conclusion, no calamity is foreseen – but there is no room for complacency... Multidisciplinary agricultural science remains the key to success. With complementary investment in infrastructure and institutions, and relative freedom from civil unrest, the world should manage to sufficiently feed its growing population. The solution to the food security challenge can never be ideal – some level of environmental cost is always unavoidable – but the pursuit of ‘perfect’ should not discourage or deter effort from those outcomes that are scientifically feasible..."

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