by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: International

Apr 11 2013

Food aid reform is up against intense lobbying

International food aid has long been fraught with politics.

Since 1954, our system for donating food for emergencies and aid has worked like this:

  • The government buys U.S. farm commodities.
  • It requires at least 75% of these commodities to be transported on U.S. ships.
  • The commodities are given to governments for emergency relief, or
  • They are given to American charitable organizations to sell so the groups can use the money to finance development projects (this is called “monetization”).

Other countries that donate food buy it internationally so it doesn’t have to be shipped long distances.

The U.S. is the only major donor country that uses food aid to benefit U.S. farmers, U.S. shipping companies, and U.S. charitable groups, and does not buy food aid internationally.

This system has long been known to undermine local agriculture and food systems, and to fail to get to those who need it most.   It takes months to get food aid where it is needed, and the entire enterprise is inefficient and unnecessarily expensive, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

Now, says the New York Times, the Obama administration wants to fix these longstanding problems.

The Agency for International Development (USAID) wants the U.S. to:

  • Buy food in local countries (although 55% would still go to U.S. farmers)
  • End “monetization” to U.S. charitable organizations.

The mere suggestion of reform has elicited intense lobbying by—surprise!—shipping companies, agricultural trade organizations, and some, but by no means all, charitable groups.

Some aid groups, Oxfam, for example, strongly favor such changes.

But food aid is part of the farm bill (Title III).  This means that any changes to current programs would have to be passed by Congress.

Good luck with that in the present political environment.

Food aid, along with SNAP (food stamps), are key issues to watch as Congress tries again to write and pass a farm bill.  Stay tuned

Resources: The excellent discussion of this issue in the Hagstrom Report (April 10) provided links to relevant documents.

 

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Mar 7 2013

Lancet series on chronic diseases, many of them diet-related

The Lancet has just published a series of articles on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) the collective term for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions caused in large part by poor diets, lack of physical activity, or cigarettes or alcohol.

Since food politics is a big part of this discussion, these papers are worth a look.  For example, as editor Richard Horton explains in his editorial:

So where are the global conferences on NCDs, the research meetings, the task forces, the grand challenges initiated by funders and foundations? They don’t exist. We, the global health community, understand that chronic diseases are a present danger to the health of our societies. Yet we are unable to translate that understanding into real political action. We cannot quite bring ourselves to put heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, or mental ill-health, together with their associated risk factors, on an equal footing with childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea, preventable maternal death, or epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The disconnect between the reality of people’s lives in countries and the concerns of professional and political leaders has rarely been greater.

Here are the papers in this series.  Read them and ponder.

Independent global accountability for NCDs

Robert Beaglehole, Ruth Bonita, Richard Horton

Full Text | PDF

NCDs: a challenge to sustainable human development

Helen Clark

Full Text | PDF

Embedding non-communicable diseases in the post-2015 development agenda

George Alleyne, Agnes Binagwaho, Andy Haines, Selim Jahan, Rachel Nugent, Ariella Rojhani, David Stuckler, for The Lancet NCD Action Group

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Country actions to meet UN commitments on non-communicable diseases: a stepwise approach

Ruth Bonita, Roger Magnusson, Pascal Bovet, Dong Zhao, Deborah C Malta, Robert Geneau, Il Suh, Kavumpurathu Raman Thankappan, Martin McKee, James Hospedales, Maximilian de Courten, Simon Capewell, Robert Beaglehole, on behalf of The Lancet NCD Action Group

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Inequalities in non-communicable diseases and effective responses

Mariachiara Di Cesare, Young-Ho Khang, Perviz Asaria, Tony Blakely, Melanie J Cowan, Farshad Farzadfar, Ramiro Guerrero, Nayu Ikeda, Catherine Kyobutungi, Kelias P Msyamboza, Sophal Oum, John W Lynch, Michael G Marmot, Majid Ezzati, on behalf of The Lancet NCD Action Group

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries

Rob Moodie, David Stuckler, Carlos Monteiro, Nick Sheron, Bruce Neal, Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, Paul Lincoln, Sally Casswell, on behalf of The Lancet NCD Action Group

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Promotion of access to essential medicines for non-communicable diseases: practical implications of the UN Political Declaration

Hans V Hogerzeil, Jonathan Liberman, Veronika J Wirtz, Sandeep P Kishore, Sakthi Selvaraj, Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, Faith N Mwangi-Powell, Tido von Schoen-Angerer

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Improving responsiveness of health systems to non-communicable diseases

Rifat Atun, Shabbar Jaffar, Sania Nishtar, Felicia M Knaul, Mauricio L Barreto, Moffat Nyirenda, Nicholas Banatvala, Peter Piot

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Feb 14 2013

Barclays agrees to stop speculating on food. Is Fred Kaufman responsible?

World Development Movement proudly announces that Barclays bank has agreed to stop speculation on food commodities.  Betting on food drives up world food prices.

Until now, Barclays has been the leading UK bank involved in speculation on food including staples like wheat, maize and soy. The bank made up to an estimated £500 million from speculating on food in 2010 and 2011.

The effects of speculation on world hunger is the reason why Fred Kaufman wrote Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (Wiley, 2012).  As I noted in an earlier post, his book is a riveting account of how banks make money by treating food as a speculative widget, driving up prices, and adding global hunger.

Did Bet the Farm have anything to do with shaming Barclay’s into doing the right thing?

World Development Movement takes credit.  Kaufman should too.

Aug 7 2012

Food Politics at the Department of State: Culinary Diplomacy

I’ve been sent a copy of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative. called “Setting the Table for Diplomacy.”

Its mission statement:

The Diplomatic Culinary Partnerships initiative builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power” diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, by utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience as ways to enhance how formal diplomacy is conducted, cultivating cultural understanding and strengthening bilateral relationships through the shared experience of food.

I particularly like the idea of “using food as a foundation for public diplomacy programs to learn about different cultures and discuss important related issues such as nutrition, sustainability and food security.”

Yes!

Everybody eats.  This is my kind of diplomacy.

 

May 9 2012

FDA’s Global Engagement

The FDA has just released a classy new report on Global Engagement, summarizing its efforts to deal with issues raised by the globalization of drugs, medical devices, and foods.

This is a big deal.  In 2009, 300,000 foreign facilities in more than 150 countries exported $2 trillion worth of FDA-regulated products to the United States.

Given these numbers alone, the FDA has some challenges.

In 2011, one out of every six FDA-regulated food products in the U.S. came from abroad.  Imports of fresh fruits, vegeta­bles, coffee, tea, and cocoa have more than doubled since 2000.

We import:

  • 80 percent of seafood
  • ~50 percent of fresh fruit
  • ~20 percent of fresh vegetables

As the report explains,

  • Many products entering the United States are made or grown in countries that lack the necessary regulatory over­sight to ensure their quality and safety.
  • Greater numbers of suppliers, more complex products, and intricate multinational supply chains introduce risks to product safety and quality, including more oppor­tunities for economic adulteration and the spread of contaminated products.
  • FDA can only realistically inspect a small percent­age (less than 3 percent) of the enormous volume of food products arriving at U.S. ports of entry, making it crucial that the Agency focus on ensuring that food products meet U.S. standards before they reach the United States.

To deal with this problem, the FDA has opened offices in:

  • China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou
  • India: New Delhi and Mumbai
  • Latin America: San Jose, Costa Rica; Santiago, Chile; and Mexico City, Mexico
  • Europe: Brussels, Belgium; London, United Kingdom; and Parma, Italy
  • Asia-Pacific: FDA headquarters
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Pretoria, South Africa
  • Middle East and North Africa: Amman, Jordan

The FDA seems seriously concerned about its global initiatives and the safety problems posed by our globalized food supply.

The volume seems impossible to manage.  Let’s hope the FDA’s efforts do some good.

Dec 12 2011

Food companies expand sales in emerging markets

Publicly traded companies cannot simply make a profit.  They must grow profits and report growth to Wall Street every 90 days.  This requirement is tough on all corporations, but especially tough on those selling food.  People can only eat so much.

To expand sales, food companies desperately seek new markets.  Last week, The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal described how food corporations are marketing processed foods to the poorest inhabitants of developing countries.

According to The Guardian,

Nestlé is using a floating supermarket to take its products to remote communities in the Amazon. Unilever has a small army of door-to-door vendors selling to low-income villages in India and west and east Africa. The brewer SABMiller has developed cheap beers in some African countries as part of a “price ladder” to its premium lager brands, and, as a leading Coca-Cola bottler and distributor, is aiming to double fizzy drinks sales in South African townships.

Last year 39% of acquisition deals by consumer goods companies were in emerging markets, compared with just 1% in 2008, according to the Grocer’s OC&C Global 50 league table.

The Wall Street Journal follows a salesman in South Africa who is “digging for his gold” in poor neighborhoods:

While Nestlé’s usual sales staff focus on filling shelves of big supermarkets, Mr. Mugwambane and 80 other salespeople like him hunt for tiny shops across South Africa that will buy such Nestlé products as baby food and nondairy creamers, often in single-serving packages that appeal to Africa’s price-sensitive customers.

…Nestlé says it expects 45% of its sales to come from emerging markets by 2020, up from roughly 30% now.

From the standpoint of food companies, says The Guardian, this is about “finding innovative ways to give isolated people the kind of choices the rich have enjoyed for years and are providing valuable jobs and incomes to some of the most marginalised.”

Baby food and nondairy creamers?

Maybe selling items like these brings jobs to some people, but it also brings nutrient-poor diets, obesity, and the resulting chronic diseases to those populations.

The ultimate costs will be high.

Aug 12 2011

Q and A: global food security

Q. I’ve just been thinking about this in light of the current situation – the worst drought in 60 years. Do you think that there is more awareness of global food security, the global food system and ‘our responsibility’?…I find this a complex issue and I think it is incredibly important we don’t forget it as other news items are prioritized.

A. Your question arrived just as the New York Times put another one of those devastating photographs of a starving child on its front page, this time to illustrate the famine in Somalia.

Like all famines, this one is politically induced.  What’s going on in Somalia these days is a consequences of a lengthy colonial history.  A colleague and I wrote a controversial paper about such issues more than 15 years ago (see Nestle M, Dalton S. Food aid and international hungerr crises: the United States in Somalia. Agriculture and Human Values 1994;11(4):19-27)

At the time, I was struck by how often the history of humanitarian aid repeats itself.  We keep making the same mistakes. 

This is because it seems—and in the case of Somalia is—much easier to deal with the immediate demand for food aid than to address the underlying politics that caused the problem in the first place.   

But if we don’t deal with the underlying politics, the same tragedies occur again and again.  

More awareness? I don’t see it happening—just increasing feelings of helplessness in the face of so much human misery. 

What to do?  I have no answers.  Somalia is too dangerous for amateurs. 

Readers: Thoughts?  Suggestions for action?

Jan 12 2011

Worldwatch issues report on nourishing the planet

The Worldwatch Institute, a group that conducts research on climate & energy, food & agriculture, and the green economy, has just released its 2011 State of the World Report, subtitled “Innovations that Nourish the Planet.”

By “innovations,” Worldwatch means agriculture-based methods that have been shown to prevent food waste, help resist climate change, and promote urban farming.  The report describes 15 such innovations, all of them environmentally sustainable.

As Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, writes in the introduction,

Increasing the production of food and eradicating hunger and malnutrition are two very different objectives—complementary perhaps, but not necessarily linked…Some clear conclusions are emerging from all this evidence.

We need to improve the resilience of countries—particularly poor, net food-importing countires—vis-à-vis increasingly high and volatile prices on the international markets.

We need to encourage modes of agricultural production that will be more resistant to climate change, which means that they will have to be more diversified and use more trees….

And we need to develop agriculture in ways that contribute to rural development by creating jobs both on farms and off them in the rural areas and by supporting decent revenues for farmers.

The report describes programs that do just those things.  Examples: breeding rice in Madagascar, trading grain in Zanzibar, using solar cookers in Senegal, and promoting safer wastewater irrigation in West Africa.

It’s always useful to have Worldwatch reports and this one is especially relevant to food, agriculture, and international development.

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