A Food Intervention: Think Globally, Act Locally

On October 23, 2008, Associated Press, Charles J. Hanley’s article ‘We blew it’ on global food, says Bill Clinton reported the following (Wikipedia, food security):

“Former President Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday [Oct 16, 2008] that the global food crisis shows “we all blew it, including me,” by treating food crops ‘like color TVs’ instead of as a vital commodity for the world’s poor….Clinton criticized decades of policy making by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the U.S., that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa’s food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose. Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade—on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008—have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty.”

“Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.” – Former US President Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008

Food is defined as any substance, plant or animal origin,  ingested by an organism and assimilated by the organism’s cells in an effort to produce energy, maintain life or stimulate growth through nutrient absorption of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins or minerals. People throughout the ages traditionally secured food through hunting and gathering as well as agriculture, however today most food energy consumed by world populations comes from the food industry. In addition, food safety and food security are modern concerns dealt with by International Association for Food Protection, World Resources Institute, World Food Program, Food and Agriculture Organization, and International Food Information Council addressing issues involving sustainability, biological diversity, climate change, nutritional economics, population growth, water supply, and access to food. The right to food is a human right as stating by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which believes in the “right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food,” and the “fundamental right to be free from hunger.” Most food comes from plant sources as some food comes directly from plants, while animals who are used as food sources eat food derived from plants. Cereal grains is a staple food for many worldwide providing more food energy than any other crop with 87% of all grain production comprising of all varieties of Maize, wheat and rice and most grains being fed to livestock. Some foods not from plants or animal, come in various forms of fungi such as mushrooms with fungi and ambient bacteria being an integral part of fermentation and pickling processes such as leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha and yogurt. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.

Most food is obtained through agriculture leading to increasing concern over both method and production of industrial agriculture and subsequently leading many toward sustainable agricultural practices. Sustainability, partly fueled by consumer demand, encourages biodiversity, local self-reliance and organic farming methods, while major influence on food production comes in the form of international organizations such as the World Trade Organization and Common Agricultural Policy coupled with national government policy or law and war. In popular culture, mass food production specifically meats e.g. chicken and beef has raised concerns through numerous documentaries such as Food Inc. documenting mass slaughter and poor animal treatment. While people seem preoccupied with environmentalism, people in the Western world have also moved toward herbal supplements, body specific groups e.g. dieters, women, athletes, etc. , functional food or fortified foods e.g. omega 3 eggs and ethnically diverse diets. Many groups want a more agroecosystems which would simultaneously supply food and support the vital ecosystems in order to maintain soil fertility and biodiversity rather than compromise it. As the International Water Management Institute and UNEP report, a well managed agroecosystem not only provides food, fiber and animals products, but provides services such as flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, erosion control and habitats for plants, birds fish and other animals.

Once the food is obtained, the next step is the preparation of it using various techniques and the taste perception of the food as it enters the body. Animals especially humans have five different types of tastes including sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami with animals evolving a preference for sugar and fats which have the most energy and are more pleasant to eat while others are found to be less enjoyable such as bitter. Water, an essential for life, has no taste, however on the other end of the spectrum, fats especially saturated fats, are rich and thicker thus are considered to be more enjoyable to eat. Umami, a Japanese word for delicious, is a long tradition in Asian cuisines and lesser known to the Western world with the taste coming from glutamates such as monosodium glutamate or MSG giving the food a savory, meaty and rich flavor e.g. salmon and mushrooms are high in umami as meats and other animal byproducts are also described as having this taste. Many cultures have distinguishable cuisines with specific methods of cooking using various spices or combination of flavors unique to their culture evolving over time. In addition, differences exist in the preference and practices known as gastronomy adding to the diversification of food within a culture by means of preparation, cooking method and manufacturing. In addition to consuming their own foods, a complex food trade helps the culture to benefit economically therefore survive through food. Some popular ethnic foods include Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, American, Cajun, Thai and Indian. Many cultures all over the world study the dietary food habits of their own and other cultures looking closely at the evolution rather than cultural aspects of humans through religion and social constructs e.g. morality, activism or environmentalism affecting what people consume. Food is eaten and enjoyed through taste receptors, a sense of taste and the perception of flavor from eating and drinking finding some food more enjoyable than others.

While a growing population prefers to cook and prepare their own foods, much of what is consumed today us packaged outside the home for purchase or manufactured. The packaging of food ranges from a butcher preparing meat to a more complex process done through the modern international food industry. Early food processing techniques were limited by available technologies to preserve, package and transport the food such as salting, curing, curdling, drying, pickling, fermenting and smoking. During the 19th century industrial revolution, food manufacturing boomed as new technology came on the market allowing for a new mass market in pre-prepared time saving food available to ordinary people who did not have servants to prepare their food. This was made a possibility because of emerging technologies at the time such as milling, preserving, packaging and labeling and transportation. When the 21st century began, a new two-tiered structure has arisen with a few international food processing giants controlling a wide range of food brands with a wide variety of small local or national food processing companies occupying the lower tier. Along with a new structure, new technology has changed the way food is manufactured as more companies utilize computer based control systems, complex processing systems and packaging methods and logistical and distribution advances enhance product quality, improve food safety and reduce costs.

The World Bank reported that the European Union was the top food importer in 2005 as the United States and Japan were a close second as food is now traded and marketed on a global basis. The variety and availability of food has no limits due to location or time of the year as some countries have become economically dependent on food exports with some cases accounting for 80% of all exports. Between 1961 and 1999, there was a 400% increase in worldwide food exports. In 1994, over 100 countries became partners to the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades in a dramatic increase in trade liberalization agreeing to reduce subsidies paid to farmers supported by the WTO enforcement of agricultural subsidy, tariffs, import quotas and settlements of trade disputes that cannot be resolved on their own. When trade barriers on disputed grounds of public health and safety happen, the WTO refers to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, founded in 1962 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization. Trade liberalization has affected the world food trade significantly.

Food marketing plays a significant role in what people buy and see bringing together the producer and consumer. The marketing of a single food products can involve many companies in the making of one product such as the grower, manufacturer, transporter, label printer, packaging maker and distributor. The food marketing system is the largest direst and indirect non-government employer int he United States. In the pre-modern age, the sale of surplus food was taken once a week to market by farmers into the local village to sell to the grocers who then sold the food in their local shop to be purchased by local consumers. However, when the industrial revolution spurred new ideas and technology, a wider range of food for consumption and distribution became a available at greater distances. The 20th century supermarket was born out of this expansion with a self service approach allowing shoppers to shop for their own goods using a shopping cart and allowed shop owners to offer quality food at lower cost due to economies of scale and reducing staffing costs. After the supermarket, the latter part of the 20th century saw the invention of warehouse size supermarkets offering a wide range of food from around the world. Unlike food processors, food retailers operate under a two tier market where a majority of supermarkets is owned by a small number of very large companies with purchasing power over farmers and processors and greatly influencing what consumers buy. The sad reality is that less than 10% of consumer spending actually goes to the farmers with most of it going to advertising,, transportation and intermediate corporations.

In March 24, 2008, consumers all over the world experienced a rise in food prices as changes in weather and the global economy began to take its toll on the market including higher oil prices, lower food reserves and an increase in consumer demand in China and India. As farmers grow more grains for food and fuel, the price will come down and eventually stabilize e.g. wheat has come down with more crops being planted in the United States, Canada and Europe in 2009. The prices will not significantly decrease until at least 2018 as the Food and Agriculture Organization reports. Food prices rose 4% in the United States in 2007, according to the Wikipedia food article, while in December 2007, 37 countries faced food crises and 20 had imposed food price controls. In China, the price of pork jumped 58% in 2007. In the 1980s and 1990s, due to farm subsidies and support programs allowing major grain exports to hold large surpluses, the country was able to use these during food shortages to keep prices down. However due to new trade policies, agricultural production has now become more responsive to market demand putting global reserves at an all time low since 1983. Food prices are continuing to rise as a result of the Westernization of Asian consumers’ diets coupled with farmers and third world countries not be able to keep up with demand. The past five years has seen an increase in the contribution of Asian nations to the world fluid and powdered milk manufacturing industry accounting for 30% of production in 2008 and China alone accounting for 10% of both production and consumption of global fruit and vegetable processing and preserving industry. Other industries with similar contributions include soft drink and bottled water, global cocoa, chocolate and sugar with growth in 2008 of 5.7% and 10% due to demand in Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. The rise of prices also can be attributed in some part to global social unrest including rioting in Bangladesh, Mexico and the Arab Spring.

Hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks e.g. Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have played significant roles in the pushing up of prices in the last 5 years with investment in food commodities rising from $65 billion to $126 billion between 2007 and 2012 making it a 30 year high. The results include price fluctuations not related to the actual supply of food according to the United Nations as financial institutions make up to 61% of all investments in wheat futures. The Wikipedia article on food explains what has happened:

 “According to Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on food, there was a rush by institutions to enter the food market following George W Bush’s Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. De Schutter told the Independent in March 2012: ‘What we are seeing now is that these financial markets have developed massively with the arrival of these new financial investors, who are purely interested in the short-term monetary gain and are not really interested in the physical thing – they never actually buy the ton of wheat or maize; they only buy a promise to buy or to sell. The result of this financialization of the commodities market is that the prices of the products respond increasingly to a purely speculative logic. This explains why in very short periods of time we see prices spiking or bubbles exploding, because prices are less and less determined by the real match between supply and demand.’ In 2011, 450 economists from around the world called on the to regulate the commodities market more.”

Some experts explain that speculation has made problem worse such as climate change, competition with bio-fuels and the increasing demand. Javati Ghosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi notes that prices have increased irrespective of supply and demand as world wheat prices doubled from June to December of 2010 despite no fall in global supply.

Besides the problem of rising food prices and the unethical processes and procedures use in the food industry and financial sector, the global community continues to deal with the basic problems of famine and hunger. Starvation and famine leads to numerous problems especially malnutrition which brings with it a host of health problems even death. Starvation is most commonly associated with famine which is the absence of food in entire communities. Many countries at one time or another have to employ rationing to distribute food in times of shortage or more notably in war. Starvation is a major international problem approximately 815 million people are undernourished causing over 16,000 children to die per day from hunger related causes. Food deprivations is a deficit need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and is measured using famine scales. Food aid can benefit people who are suffering from food shortage with shirt term benefits to improve people’s lives and increase the standard of living to the point that food aid no longer is required. However, poor management of food aid creates issues by disrupting local markets, depressing crop prices, discouraging food production and even create a cycle of dependence. Sometimes the threat of withdrawal is used as a political tool to influence the country utilizing it called food politics. Provision of food aid can require the purchase of food from certain sellers and food aid can be misused to enhance the markets of the donor countries. The World Food Program usually coordinates the international effort to distribute food to the neediest countries.

With food, comes many different types of health concerns that include natural and man made problems. Foodborne illness or food poisoning caused by bacteria, toxins, viruses, parasites and prions causes 7 million people to die each year and about 10 times as many suffer from the non-fatal version. Two of the most common causes for bacterial foodborne illness are cross contamination of ready to eat food from other uncooked foods and improper temperature control with less common adverse reaction coming from chemical contamination such as improper storage or use of non food grade soap and disinfectants. Food can affected by a wide range of foreign bodies during farming, manufacture, cooking, packaging, distribution or sale including droppings, hairs, cigarette butts, wood chips and other contaminants. The sale of rancid, contaminated, or adulterated food was commonplace until hygiene, refrigeration and vermin controls came into play around the 19th century. The discovery of techniques to kill bacteria with heat and other studies by scientist like Louis Pasteur contributed to modern sanitation standards in the developed world. This work was further supported by Justus von Liebig and his work to develop modern food storage and food preservation methods. In addition, greater understanding of the causes of food poisoning has led to systematic approaches such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) which helps to identify and eliminate these risks. Some people have allergies or sensitivities to food that cause their immune system to mistake proteins for harmful foreign bodies and attack it with 2% of adults and 8% of children living with it. Small amounts of food or traces of food in the air can provoke a lethal attack in extremely sensitive people. Some common allergens include gluten, corn, shellfish, peanuts and soy which can cause diarrhea, rashes, bloating, vomiting and regurgitation. The stronger reaction can lead to medical emergencies such as anaphylactic shock, hypotension and loss of consciousness calling for treatment with adrenaline. Another health problem related to food is carcinogens found in the food naturally or as contaminants that can cause cancers with the human diet causing about 35% of cancers in human epidemiology analysis by Richard Doll and Richard Peto in 1981. Anticarcinogens can also be found in food to prevent cancer such as fruits and vegetables e.g. antioxidants are a compound that may help remove harmful chemicals. This why many doctors will try to alleviate the problem with a change in diet to balance the body and improve health.

A method employed by international agencies and public health policy involves the adding of micronutrients e.g. trace elements and vitamins to food and often referred to as food fortification or enrichment. The process can be a commercial choice to provide extra nutrients in food or used as mentioned in order to reduce the number of people with dietary deficiencies in a population. Diets that lack variety can be deficient in nutrients, while staple foods in a region can lack particular nutrients due to soil or because of inherent inadequacy of the normal diet, according to Wikipedia article on food fortification. Micronutrients added to staples and condiments can prevent large scale deficiency diseases in these cases. As defined by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, fortification is:

 “the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, ie. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in a food irrespective of whether the nutrients were originally in the food before processing or not, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and to provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.”

While enrichment is:

“synonymous with fortification and refers to the addition of micronutrients to a food which are lost during processing.”

Both organizations see food fortification as only the second of four strategies that can be used to decrease the incidence of nutrient deficiencies at the global level. The most common fortified foods, according to the FAO, include cereals and cereal based products, milk and milk products, fats and oils, accessory food items, tea and other beverages and infant formula. The four methods of food fortification employed today are (as Liyanage and Hettiarachchi described in their article Food Fortification in the Ceylon Medical Journal in 2011):

1.Biofortification (i.e. breeding crops to increase their nutritional value, which can include both conventional selective breeding, and modern genetic modification)
2.Microbial biofortification and synthetic biology (i.e. addition of probiotic bacteria to foods)
3.Commercial and industrial fortification (i.e. flour, rice, oils (common cooking foods))
4.Home fortification (e.g. vitamin D drops)

There are several advantages and some disadvantages to the utilization of food fortification for nutrient deficiencies among populations. The WHO and FAO as well as other nationally recognized organizations admit there are over 2 billion people worldwide who suffer from a variety of micronutrient deficiencies. In 1992, 159 countries took the pledge to combat issues of micronutrient deficiencies with special emphasis given to decreasing the number of iodine, Vitamin A and iron deficiencies at the FAO/ WHO International Conference on Nutrition. The tipping point for this collective effort was the statistic that approximately 1 in 3 people worldwide are at risk for one of the three mentioned deficiencies. As Darnton-Hill notes way back in 1998,  Rationale and elements of a successful food-fortification program in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin, food fortification alone cannot solve these deficiencies but it is a step forward in reducing the prevalence of them and their associated health conditions. The advantages to food fortification include but are not limited to the following as Liyanage and Hettiarachchi reports: treating a population without changing diet pattern, continuous delivery of nutrient, no specific compliance required and the potential to maintain nutrient stores when consumed on a regular basis. With the advantages, comes some disadvantages to the process as recognized by WHO, FAO, Health Canada and Nestle Research Center as nutrient toxicities become a concern and the side effects of delivering toxic amounts of nutrients to an individual. According to the Food Safety Network, in the case of fluoride toxicity, irreversible staining to the teeth occurs which is a minor toxic effect to health. The WHO states that limitations to food fortification includes human rights issues, less demand for fortified products, increase production costs leading to retail mark ups, the potential of fortified foods not being able to meet nutrient deficiencies among low income populations due to the price of these new products and children may not be able to consume adequate amounts of these products.

Another concern facing world food supplies and therefore the survival of some populations involves the availability of food and access to it referred to as food security. The USDA estimates almost 9 out of 10 households in the United States were food secure through 2005. This indicator measures the likelihood in the future of disruption or unavailability of critical food supply involving factors such as droughts, shipping disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, wars, etc. Food safety assessment covers both self sufficiency rate and external dependency rate with countries dependent on both in order to avoid high production costs and production risks due to high self sufficiency rates in wealthy countries if they are without economic means. The World Health Organization defines three facets to food security which are food availability involving sufficient quantities of food, food access involving sufficient resources to obtain food and food use involving appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care along with adequate water and sanitation. The FAO recognizes that a fourth factor places a significant role which involves the first three over time. In 2006, MSNBC  reported globally that the number of people who are overweight outnumber those that are undernourished with one billion people overweight and 800 million undernourished indicating an increase in food production globally per capita over the past several decades. The FAO in 2010 reported worldwide that 925 million people are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while 2 billion people lack food security due to varying degrees of poverty. According to the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, failed agricultural market regulation and lack of anti-dumping policy has caused or given rise to much of the world’s food scarcity and malnutrition as many blame the price increase of grain on (as of 2007) export restrictions and panic buying, US Dollar Depreciation, increased farming for use in biofuels, world oil prices at more than $100 a barrel, global population growth, climate change, loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development, and growing consumer demand in China and India with some factors still under debate. As a result of continued debate, food riots have recently taken place in many countries globally. The ongoing global credit crisis has caused a boom in commodity prices as farm credit becomes affected. As the journal of  Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food reports, 70% or more of the population lives in rural areas in the developing world giving rise to an opportunity for agricultural development among smallholder farmers and landless people who want to stay in their communities to create a livelihood. Where there is no land ownership, people who want or need to farm to make a living have little incentive to improve the land.

Even the United States today is dealing with issues of food security among those struggling to provide for their families. The United States is home to 2,000,000 farmers, less than 1% the population. Family and financial resources present a correlation between food consumption levels and poverty as those who have the means to escape poverty rarely suffer from chronic hunger, while poor families suffer from chronic hunger and are at high risk during food shortage and famine. The two commonly used definitions of food security are as follows:

  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) declares food security to exist “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
  • The USDA declares food security “for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).”

Melaku Ayalew explains, What is Food Security and Famine and Hunger?, the stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full scale famine as follows:

“Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability. [Chronic] hunger is not famine. It is similar to undernourishment and is related to poverty, existing mainly in poor countries.”

With food security comes a host of other challenges to overcome in order to decrease the rate of poverty and hunger globally. Many countries must deal with constant food shortages and distribution problems leading to chronic and widespread hunger among large populations. Humans respond to hunger and malnutrition by decreasing their body size known in medical terms as stunting or stunted growth where in utero due to the mother’s malnourishment, the child continues to stunt through the third year of life leading to higher infant and child mortality rates (still lower than famine rates). The damage cannot be reversed and many see stunting as a coping mechanism for the body in order to align better with the calories available during adulthood in the location where the child is born. This mechanism of adapting to low levels of energy effects health in three ways:

  • Premature failure of vital organs occurs during adulthood. For example, a 50-year-old individual might die of heart failure because his/her heart suffered structural defects during early development;
  • Stunted individuals suffer a far higher rate of disease and illness than those who have not undergone stunting;
  • Severe malnutrition in early childhood often leads to defects in cognitive development.

Robert Fogel, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, notes:

“The analysis … points to the misleading nature of the concept of subsistence as Malthus originally used it and as it is still widely used today. Subsistence is not located at the edge of a nutritional cliff, beyond which lies demographic disaster. Rather than one level of subsistence, there are numerous levels at which a population and a food supply can be in equilibrium in the sense that they can be indefinitely sustained. However, some levels will have smaller people and higher normal mortality than others.”

The Food and Agricultural Organization reports:

“The number of people without enough food to eat on a regular basis remains stubbornly high, at over 800 million, and is not falling significantly. Over 60% of the world’s undernourished people live in Asia, and a quarter in Africa. The proportion of people who are hungry, however, is greater in Africa (33%) than Asia (16%). The latest FAO figures indicate that there are 22 countries, 16 of which are in Africa, in which the undernourishment prevalence rate is over 35%.”

The challenges to overcome poverty and hunger in the world are numerous and require many different fields of expertise. Some of these problems include understanding agriculture-hunger-poverty relationship, fixing the global water crisis, preventing land degradation and fixing the damage, preventing land deals that deprive developing countries from securing their own long term food supply, addressing the issue of climate change, preventing or solving the problem of agricultural disease in livestock and crops, making biotechnology available for smallholders of farms and farmers in the subtropics, overcoming the control of dictatorships and kleptocracy, children and food security, gender issues and food security, addressing and removing barriers to gendered food security, land rights and inheritance issues especially with respect to women, division of unpaid labor and time constraints, understanding crop types and their distribution among gender and location and making credit, technology, education, markets and government services available to everyone. Several gender specific issues must be understood concerning the developing world in order to decrease the number of poverty stricken therefore malnourished women, who account for a large percentage, globally. These issues include new policies to encourage women in the agricultural sphere. A report issued by the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development in 2009 concluded that several major policy decisions could help to improve food security for women suggesting such ideas as tariffs, subsidies, safeguard mechanisms, food stocks, commodity exchange regulations, regulating trade with transnational corporations, restricting monopolies, social welfare, research into climate change, nutritional requirements and policy deliberation and innovation in food production and food security strategies.

There are many economic approaches to the food security problem with the three mentioned below being the most common, the first is what governmental and international agencies see as the solution and the second two are common to non-governmental organizations. The conventional thinking in the western world is in order to maximize farmers’ profits the farmer must maximize agricultural yields as the greater the profit the greater the effort and risk the farmer is willing to take. To do this, the farmers need the largest number and highest quality tools possible meaning improved production techniques, seeds, secure land tenure, accurate weather forecasts, etc. However, the farmer will still have to pick and choose what to use, and how to use them on their land depending on local conditions. The profits like with any business will be reinvested into the business to increase production and profits through improvements to the agricultural process. Another approach, takes into account a collective approach where the global food supply is thought to produce enough food for the entire world population at adequate levels to ensure that no one goes hungry thus no one starves due to economic constraints or social inequalities. The idea is called food justice where food security is taken as a basic human right with fairer distribution of food especially grain crops as means of ending hunger and malnutrition. The core belief of this approach is that food is not lacking, but the political will to fairly distribute food regardless of the ability to pay. The final approach to discuss is called food sovereignty which views the practices of multinational corporations as a form of neocolonialism where multinational corporations have the financial resources to buy up the agricultural resource of impoverished nations especially the tropics. These corporation have the political clout to convert these resources to cash crops for sale to industrialized nations outside the tropics and in the process squeeze the poor off their more productive lands as Felicity Lawrence,(September 15, 2010) “Big business clear winner in Peru’s asparagus industry | Global development | guardian.co.uk”, reports. The concept of food sovereignty holds that communities should be able to define their own means of production and food is a basic human right with many multinational corporations pushing agricultural technologies on the developing world including improved seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, crop production has become an increasingly analyzed and debated issue. This push for modern technology has causes many communities to protest the imposition of Western technologies on indigenous people. Many supporters of food sovereignty are calling for bans on production of cash crops in developing nations allowing the local farmers to concentrate on subsistence agriculture and oppose import dumping where low cost subsidized foods come from the developed world into the developing world.

Modern day agriculture has changed from a hunter gather attitude to what many refer to as industrial agriculture where livestock,poultry, fish and crops are now industrially produced using techoscientific, economic and political methods. These methods include innovations in agricultural machinery and farming methods, genetic technology, techniques for achieving economies of scale in production, the creation of new markets for consumption, the application of patent protection to genetic information, and global trade (Wikipedia, industrial agriculture). The methods mentioned above are widely used in the developed world and become more prevalent worldwide as most of the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables are produced for supermarkets using industrial agriculture. Some challenges to the process include maximizing benefits (cheap and plentiful food, convenience for the consumer, and the contribution to our economy on many levels, from growers to harvesters to processors to sellers), while minimizing the downsides (environmental and social costs, damage to fisheries, cleanup of surface and groundwater polluted with animal waste, increased health risks from pesticides, increased ozone pollution via methane byproducts of animals and global warming from heavy use of fossil fuels). Industrial agriculture has adapted well to the growing populations as agriculture has had to evolve with time from the hunter-gatherer behavior that fed 6 million people 30,000 years ago to 3,000 years ago primitive agriculture had to feed 60 million people to 300 years ago when intensive agriculture had to feed 600 million people to today where industrial agriculture attempts to feed 6 billion people. Bruce Gardner, U.S. Agriculture in the Twentieth Century, states, “The percentage of U.S. disposable income spent on food prepared at home decreased, from 22 percent as late as 1950 to 7 percent by the end of the century.” Economic liabilities for industrial agriculture include dependence on finite non-renewable fossil fuel energy for farm mechanization such as equipment and machinery, for food processing and transportation and for input into agricultural chemicals. Other issues include use of huge amounts of water, energy, and industrial chemicals; increasing pollution in arable land, usable water and atmosphere such as herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers and animal waste accumulating in ground and surface water; and chemicals used in industrial agriculture and monoculture have had implication in Colony Collapse Disorder leading to a decrease in bee populations.

In an effort to reduce the amount of environmental impact and social ills related to industrial agriculture, many individuals have started their own local food movement or began participating in community supported or shared agriculture. Local food or the local food movement is part of a larger goal to buy locally produced good and services rather than those made by corporatized institutions. A United States Department of Agriculture report (Local Food Systems Concepts, Impacts, and Issues by Steve Martine, Economic Research Service) explains local food as “related to the distance between food producers and consumers,” as well as “defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics.” The USDA included stats about the local food market in the leaflet released in May 2010. Below is a summary of these stats:

 “Direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in current dollar sales in 2007, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, compared with $551 million in 1997. Direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.4 percent of total agricultural sales in 2007, up from 0.3 percent in 1997. If non-edible products are excluded from total agricultural sales, direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.8 percent of agricultural sales in 2007. The number of farmers’ markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In 2005, there were 1,144 community-supported agriculture organizations (CSAs) in operation, up from 400 in 2001 and 2 in 1986, according to a study by the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization National Center for Appropriate Technology. In early 2010, estimates exceeded 1,400, but the number could be much larger. The number of farm to school programs, which use local farms as food suppliers for school meals programs, increased to 2,095 in 2009, up from 400 in 2004 and 2 in the 1996-97 school year, according to the National Farm to School Network. Data from the 2005 School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment Survey, sponsored by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, showed that 14 percent of school districts participated in Farm to School programs, and 16 percent reported having guidelines for purchasing locally grown produce.”

Networks of local farmers and producers are now collaborating together in the U.K., Europe, Canada and the U.S. to provide online farmers markets to customers allowing another vehicle for local farmers and producers to sell and harvest only what is ordered and provide the freshest produce keeping overhead low as web costs as shared. This allows consumers access to a huge variety of farmers and products without being locked into buying from community supported or shared agriculture. This has given way to supermarkets tapping into local food markets as well. According to a Wikipedia article on local food:

“A recent study led by Miguel Gomez, a professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future found that in many instances, the supermarket supply chain did much better in terms of food miles and fuel consumption for each pound compared to farmers markets. It suggests that selling local foods through supermarkets may be more economically viable and sustainable than through farmers markets.”

Although there are many benefits to such programs, there are also issues that arise when utilizing this method of sustainable farming. A community supported agricultural system benefits the community by allowing the consumer to support local farmers, obtain fresher food than at the store and learn how the food was grown. In addition, local eating promotes relationships between farmers and consumers such as farmers’ markets where 75% of shoppers arrive in groups while 16% of shoppers arrive in groups at supermarkets suggesting a very social environment. Comparing social interaction with customers and employees, farmers market see a much higher rate than chain supermarkets building a greater sense of community and traditions. The environmental benefits include a decrease in greenhouse gases emitted due to less energy needed to transport or store the local grown goods making it more climate friendly and the fact that crops are seasonally grown requiring less energy needed to be put into the system. The economic benefit to the community includes the introduction of local farmer’s markets into the economy promoting investments that serve to increase the economic and social opportunities available for residents. In a study conducted in the state of Iowa (Hood 2010), it was concluded that the introduction of 152 farmers markets into the state economy led to the creation of 576 jobs, a $59.4 million increase in output, and a $17.8 million increase in income UCSUSA report. While this is only one state, other studies have shown similar results. Some critics though question the idea of fewer food miles leads to a more sustainable meal due to the fact it is not supported by any major scientific studies. Another issue plaguing the local food movement is that numerous studies have shown locally and sustainably produced food release more greenhouse gases than food made in a factory farm. According to the Wikipedia article on “local food:”

“The ‘Land Degradation’ section of the United Nations report Livestock’s Long Shadow concludes that ‘Intensification – In terms of increased productivity both in livestock production and in feed crop agriculture – can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.’ Furthermore, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia,found that cattle raised on open pastures release fifty percent more greenhouse gas emissions than cattle raised in factory farms. Additionally, Adrian Williams of Cranfield University in England found that free range and organic raised chickens have a twenty percent greater impact on global warming than chickens raised in factory farm conditions, and organic egg production had a 14% higher impact on the climate than factory farm egg production. Furthermore, studies, such as Christopher Webers report on Food Miles, have shown that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the production phase far outweigh the emissions created in the transportation phase. In short, locally grown food is actually worse for the environment than food made in factory farms.”

The long term feasibility and efficiency of locally grown food has also come into question. As technology has advanced in farming, the productivity per farmer has skyrocketed in the last 70 years making it even more important in the fight to reduce the prevalence of undernourishment in the world. As the population increases, the effectiveness of a locally grown system is further challenged as a decrease in productivity per farmer would cause global devastation including a decrease in food supply and further agricultural expansion in order to acquire arable land. The expansion would mean more global deforestation leading to further destruction of biodiversity and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Many critics believe that a locally grown system and their negative environmental consequences would far exceed those of factory farming when applied on a larger scale.

Another integral part to the discussion of sustainability and industrial farmers is the concept of community supported fisheries and sustainable fisheries. A community supported fishery involves a shore side community of people collaborating with the local fishing community following a similar model as community supported agriculture. These community contributes freshly caught local seafood to the local markets and provides fishermen with a better price on less catch. The goal is to reconnect people with the ocean that sustains them and build a rewarding relationship between fishermen and shareholders. The community supported fishery includes a triple bottom line:

  • Environmental stewardship: to encourage an ethic of ecological stewardship that results in creative, community-based approaches to marine conservation.
  • Local economies: to increase the viability of traditional coastal communities by fostering economic opportunities that support natural resource-based livelihoods.
  • Social improvements: to cultivate ties and establish bonds between shore side communities and inshore urban, suburban and rural communities by providing fresh, local seafood.

Some challenges to such a program include scale and effectiveness. Some question the effect of small scale programs on an issue that is global in scale and complexity as most are in the beginning stages and cannot fully support all the fishermen in their community therefore many still rely on the unpredictable nature of the traditional supply chain. In addition, there is no evidence that these program provide the benefits they claim, while one CSF program, Monterey Bay Local Catch, has started to create criteria for measuring the impact of such programs on economic, social and environmental factors.

Another alternative to these programs, sustainable fisheries harvest at a sustainable rate where the fish population does not decline over time due to fishing practices using several theoretical disciplines such as population dynamics of fisheries with practical strategies like avoiding overfishing through individual fishing quotas, curtailing destructive and illegal fishing practices by lobbying for appropriate law and policy, setting up protected areas, restoring collapsed fisheries, incorporating all externalities involved in harvesting marine ecosystems into fishery economics, educating stakeholders and the wider public, and developing independent certification programs. As Ray Hilborn explains in his article, Are Sustainable Fisheries Achievable?:

“Some primary concerns around sustainability are that heavy fishing pressures, such as over exploitation and growth or recruitment overfishing, will result in the loss of significant potential yield; that stock structure will erode to the point where it loses diversity and resilience to environmental fluctuations; that ecosystems and their economic infrastructures will cycle between collapse and recovery; with each cycle less productive than its predecessor; and that changes will occur in the trophic balance.”

Hilborn, of the University of Washington, distinguished three ways of defining a sustainable fishery as follows:

  • Long term constant yield is the idea that undisturbed nature establishes a steady state that changes little over time. Properly done, fishing at up to maximum sustainable yield allows nature to adjust to a new steady state, without compromising future harvests. However, this view is naive, because constancy is not an attribute of marine ecosystems, which dooms this approach. Stock abundance fluctuates naturally, changing the potential yield over short and long term periods.
  • Preserving intergenerational equity acknowledges natural fluctuations and regards as unsustainable only practices which damage the genetic structure destroy habitat, or deplete stock levels to the point where rebuilding requires more than a single generation. Providing rebuilding takes only one generation, overfishing may be economically foolish, but it is not unsustainable. This definition is widely accepted.
  • Maintaining a biological, social and economic system considers the health of the human ecosystem as well as the marine ecosystem. A fishery which rotates among multiple species can deplete individual stocks and still be sustainable so long as the ecosystem retains its intrinsic integrity. Such a definition might consider as sustainable fishing practices that lead to the reduction and possible extinction of some species.

Some obstacles to a sustainable fishery program include overfishing, habitat modification, changing ecosystem balance, climate change, ocean pollution, disease and toxins, and irrigation. In order to counterbalance these inadequacies in the current system, several agencies, governmental and non-governmental, have taken up the task to fix some of these problems through better fisheries management using fisheries science to enable sustainable exploitation, ecosystem based fisheries, marine protected areas, fish farming, laws and treaties, awareness campaigns and better data management.

In the spirit of new ideas and innovative ways to deal with the increasing problem of food security, Development Supported Agriculture was born as a way to preserve and invest in agricultural land use through real estate development. DSA attempts to reconcile the need for developments with the need for preserving agricultural land in order to address the lose of farmland due to economic obstacles and the pressure of real estate. The overall goal is to incorporate small scale organic farms into residential land development providing benefits to farmers, residents, the local community and the environment. The term agricultural urbanism refers to agricultural operations located in proximity to and integrated with urban areas. The term was coined by Mark Holland and Janine de la Salle, whose book is of the same name, explains that the concept was originally developed in British Columbia in 2008 in the planning process for a project called Southlands in South Delta, Metro Vancouver and introduced to planner, real estate developer, and founder of the New Urbanism movement, Andres Duany, as part of the preparation for a design charrette which Duany and his team were involved in. DSA utilizes the barter system and ensures that products from these farms are integrated into the local economy. Another goal is to establish a new generation of farmers by using the revenue from the real estate development to establish small scale organic farms protected in perpetuity by conservation easements and property covenants. The concept is based on a master planned residential development with farming as the central amenity providing residents with the benefit and opportunity to experience small scale organic farming. Property owners have the option to participate or lease their land to farmers which in both cases are protected from development. Utilizing LeCorbusier’s Five Points of a New Architecture, DSA focuses on five core principles:

  1. Preservation of farmland through limited development and continuity of previous farming uses.
  2. Agreements between developers and farmers (development provides farm infrastructure, farmers provide farm products to residents and the local community).
  3. Low-impact development techniques, sustainable architecture, and careful ecological/environmental planning.
  4. Establishment of wildlife corridors and animal habitats, promotion of native plant species, and protection of water quality.
  5. Utilization of an open-source development model that provides a framework for master-planned farm communities and integrated local food systems.

Some developments include Harvest in North Carolina, Serenbe in Georgia, Middle Green Valley in Solano County, California, Prairie Crossing in Illinois, Bundoran Farm in Virginia, South Village in Vermont and Hidden Springs in Idaho. Building on these possibilities, vertical farming or sky farming is now a conceptual form of agriculture done in urban high rises where fruit, vegetables, fish and livestock can be raised by using greenhouse growing methods and recycled resources year round allowing cities to become self-sufficient. While the idea is only an idea, many people see this type of development becoming necessary as urban density increases and energy costs rise.

While being informed about what options as a consumer people have, it is important to become educated on the what, where and who of the food industry in order to make a more informed decision about food options. Unsavory and unhygienic conditions are a few of the unsettling realities of mass produced food, however not the only problems that plague the food industry. Below is a list of facts complied from various sources that give the individual a complete and detailed view of the food industry as people think they know it today. To start off the list, these facts comes from Katherine’s article 5 Facts the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know published on December 7, 2011:

  1. Not all ingredients appear on labels. “How do fast food burger companies make sure their burgers are (mostly) e.coli free? They put their ground beef through a cleaning process done with ammonia! It’s safe according to the USDA, but  incidents of meat infected with salmonella and e.coli have brought the effectiveness of ammonia cleaning into question – not to mention the odor and taste of ammonia often present in freshly delivered batches of ground beef. That’s just one example of ingredients present in the food that don’t appear anywhere on the label. Considering ingredient lists for most mass-produced food is already confounding, it’s mind-boggling to think what else might be in there.”
  2. Visible shelf space is paid advertising. Popular food manufacturer’s buy the most visible shelf spaces in order to position their products more advantageously. End-aisle displays and the most easily-reachable, frontally located shelf spaces are just another form of paid advertising. If you want to buy the less rigorously advertised, quality products, you can usually find them in the harder to reach locations with decreased visibility.”
  3. Ingredients don’t have to be explained. “What is ‘Natural red 4’? It’s found in juice, ice cream, candies, and lipstick, so it’s probably some kind of berry or something right? Actually, it’s a red pigment derived from Cochineals – insects native to subtropical South America! If you’re worried, calm down – since 2006, it’s been required for labels to specifically list ‘carmine’ as an ingredient due to severe allergic reactions that arose as a result of the bug’s consumption. However, this issue illustrates a greater problem: think of the tons of inscrutable ingredients in foods that are never explained.  Another example is ‘cellulose.’ It’s popping up in all kinds of foods, from ice cream to muffins – but what is it, actually?  Wood pulp. The same pulp, in fact, that is used to make newspapers and other non-food items.”
  4. Processing foods greatly reduces nutritional value. “Companies stretch their resources as thin as possible to increase profit margins. Why sell whole apples when you can sell 10x as many apple-flavored fruit leathers?  Or gallons of apple juice? This makes sense from a business perspective, but the food’s nutritional value takes a major hit.  The more food is processed, the less nutritional value it retains, and the more likely it is that the food contains non-nutritive additives.For example, most orange juice isn’t produced ‘fresh squeezed’ the way you might expect. To preserve orange juice for year-round consumption, it’s stored in vats without oxygen – a process which often causes the juice to lose its flavor. In order to ‘re-flavor’ the juice, they add citrus-fragrances and chemicals to it, similar to those found in perfumes.
  5. Health claims are often unfounded. “When Quaker Oats came to the FDA in the ’90s to get permission to print ‘heart-healthy’ claims on their packaging, it ushered in a time of health advertising strongly backed by scientific evidence. As more companies jumped on the health bandwagon, the FDA’s rules changed to allow ‘qualified health claims’ – health claims with an asterisk.  Companies were then allowed to make health claims like ‘helps maintain a healthy heart’ with little or no scientific backing.”

From the pages of Men’s Health, Eat This Not That! brings us some more of the scariest food facts:

  1. Your food can legally contain maggots, rodent hair, and insect eggs. “The FDA allows certain ‘defects’ to slide by. Have a look at what your food can carry:
    • Canned pineapple can pack in up to 20% moldy fruit.
    • Berries can harbor up to 4 larvae per 100 grams.
    • Oregano can legally contain up to 1,250 insect fragments per 10 grams.
    • Cinnamon can carry up to 1 milligram of animal excrement per pound.
    • Ocean perch can harbor small numbers of copepods, parasites that create pus pockets.”
  2. Nutritious food costs 10 times as much as junk food. “University of Washington researchers calculated the cost discrepancy between healthy food and junk foods and found that 2,000 calories of junk food rings up at a measly $3.52 a day. Yet for 2,000 calories of nutritious grub, the researchers plunked down $36. To add insult to fiscal injury, out of every dollar you spend on food, only 19 cents goes toward the stuff you eat. The other 81 percent goes toward marketing, manufacturing, and packaging. Think about that the next time your grocery bill jumps into triple-digit dollars.”
  3. Grocers don’t have to tell you where your salad comes from. “With fresh fruits and vegetables, supermarkets must tell you the country of origin, but with dried fruit and mixed produce, the law isn’t so strict. That means a mixed bag of salads isn’t required to disclose its location, and that can create problems if there’s a bacterial outbreak. News reports might warn you about E. Coli-tainted spinach coming from a certain country, but if your spinach is packaged with other greens, you’ll have no way of knowing if it’s in your bag. That’s a huge problem considering leafy greens top the CDC’s list of foods most commonly associated with food borne illness.”
  4. Fruits and vegetables are losing their nutrients. “According to the USDA, the fruits and vegetables we eat today may contain significantly fewer nutrients than those our grandparents ate. Researchers looked at 43 produce items and discovered drops in protein (6 percent), calcium (16 percent), iron (15 percent), riboflavin (38 percent), and vitamin C (20 percent). Your move: Eat more fruits and vegetables.”
  5. Calorie counts on nutrition fact labels aren’t accurate. “Researchers at Tufts University recently analyzed 269 food items from 42 national sit-down and fast-food restaurant chains, and they found that nearly 20 percent of samples contained 100 or more calories than reported by the restaurants. Think about it like this: If every meal you eat has 100 more calories than you need, you’ll gain more than 30 pounds this year.”
  6. Chicken today contains 266 percent more fat than it did 40 years ago. “What’s more, today’s chicken also has 33 percent less protein, according to a study from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University. The problem is modern farming practices. Cramped environments and unnatural diets produce birds that have the same weight problems as the humans who eat them.”
  7. Milk contains hormones that may cause cancer. “In 1970, a typical dairy cow could produce about 10,000 pounds of milk per year. Today, that same cow produces roughly 20,000 pounds. So did cows change? Nope. It’s their feed that’s different. Today’s cows are routinely fed a hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST. Problem is, studies have linked rBST to a multitude of cancers, including those of the prostate, breast, and colon. And while milk from rBST-treated cows is ubiquitous in America’s supermarkets, some of the biggest players are getting wise. Stores like Whole Foods, Wal Mart, and Kroger only carry rBST-free dairy.”
  8. Conventional supermarket peaches can be coated with as many as nine different pesticides. “Because peaches are prone to bruising, blemishing, and insect takeover, they’re routinely soaked in chemicals in the weeks before being shipped off to the supermarket. That’s why the Environmental Working Group rates peaches among the dirtiest conventional fruits in America. Also on that list: apples, celery, strawberries, and spinach. As a general rule, unless the produce has a thick, impermeable skin, assume it’s soaked in pesticides. Now wash it with water and mild soap before you eat it.”
  9. You’re probably eating trans fat without knowing it. “Slack FDA regulations allow food processors to claim zero trans fats even if the food contains .49 grams. To be clear, that’s .49 grams per serving. That means by the time you finish, say, an entire bag of Cheetos, you might be ingesting nearly 5 grams of trans fat. Sure the bag says ‘0 GRAMS TRANS FAT’ right on the front, but if you look at the ingredient statement, you’ll see partially hydrogenated oil, the primary source of trans fat.”
  10. The number of daily calories available to each American has increased by 500 over the last 40 years. “USDA data shows that the food industry supplies 2,700 calories to every man, woman and child in America. In 1970, that number was 2,200. That increase translates into 52 extra pounds of fat per person, per year.”
  11. Commonly used food dyes can alter your kids’ behavior. “Researchers at the University of Southampton found that colors such as Yellow #5, Yellow #6, and Red #40 could cause hyperactivity in children. Ironically, foods marketed to children are often the most heavily dyed foods in the supermarket.”
  12. Your stomach bug is likely food poisoning. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year, 48,000 Americans receives food poisoning from contaminated food, and that puts a $152 billion strain on the economy. What’s worse, an astonishing 3,000 of those people die. Where’s the problem? Click ahead to find out.”
  13. Forty-two percent of raw supermarket chicken is contaminated. “In a study by Consumers Union, the driving force behind Consumer Reports, 12 percent of tested chickens were infected with Salmonella, and nearly half carried Campylobacter. Campylobacteriosis is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in America.”
  14. Gulf Coast oysters carry E. coli. “When researchers from Arizona tested Gulf Shore oysters, they found E. coli in every single sample. As filter-feeders, oysters naturally sift through the pollutants in the water, increasing their risk of contamination by pathogens. If you’re buying oysters from anything less than a highly trusted source, make sure you cook them through.”
  15. Aluminum cans are lined with a hormone-disrupting toxin. “Bisphenol A, or BPA, is the chemical found in plastic bottles, glass jar lids, and the lining of food-containing tins and cans. In your body, BPA acts similar to estrogen, and it has been linked to behavioral problems, reproductive issues, and obesity. The industry has been slow to find a replacement, so limit exposure by switching to glass containers or plastic bottles labeled BPA-free.”
  16. Roughly two-thirds of bottled water doesn’t comply with FDA standards. “When the Food and Drug Administration set bottled-water regulations, it left in one gaping loophole: The regulations apply only to bottled waters sold across state or country borders. Bottles packaged and sold within a single state don’t have to comply with national standards. Although many states do have their own set of (nationally unregulated and unrecognized) regulations in place, one in five have none. Furthermore, government and industry estimates figure that 25 percent of water bottles sold in the US contain mere tap water. You should be so lucky as to end up with one of those; the FDA’s rules are far more lax than the tap water standards set by the EPA.”
  17. We drink twice as many calories today as we did 30 years ago. “The average American drinks 450 liquid calories every day, according to a study from the University of North Carolina. And booze isn’t the problem. Blame the bigger bottles of soda, the sugar-loaded coffee drinks, and the barrel-sized smoothies.”
  18. Fast food signs alter your behavior. “A study published last year in Psychological Science reveals that the mere sight of a fast-food sign on the side of the road is enough to make people feel rushed, which can lead to impulsive decisions—and dangerous nutritional choices. Sidestep your impulses the next time you eat out: Plan your order before you walk through the door and then stick with it.”

From the article, 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know by Adam Voiland and Angela Haupt published on March 30 2012, here are some more facts to consider next time you find yourself in the supermarket:

  1.  Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to kids. “According to the Federal Trade Commission, food makers spend some $1.6 billion annually to reach children through the traditional media as well the Internet, in-store advertising, and sweepstakes. An article published in 2006 in the ‘Journal of Public Health Policy’ puts the number as high as $10 billion annually. The bulk of these ads are for unhealthy products high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium. Promotions often use cartoon characters or free giveaways to entice kids into the junk food fold. On TV alone, the average child sees about 5,500 food commercials a year (or about 15 per day) that advertise high-sugar breakfast cereals, fast food, soft drinks, candy, and snacks, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Compare that to the fewer than 100 TV ads per year kids see for healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and bottled water.”
  2. The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products. “In fact, according to a review led by Ludwig of hundreds of studies that looked at the health effects of milk, juice, and soda, the likelihood of conclusions favorable to the industry was several times higher among industry-sponsored research than studies that received no industry funding. ‘If a study is funded by the industry, it may be closer to advertising than science,’ he says.”
  3. More processing means more profits, but typically makes food less healthy. “Minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables obviously aren’t where food companies look for profits. The big bucks stem from turning government-subsidized commodity crops—mainly corn, wheat, and soybeans—into fast foods, snack foods, and beverages. High-profit products derived from these commodity crops are generally high in calories and low in nutritional value. Ultraprocessed foods, for example, lack fiber, micronutrients, and healthful plant substances called phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and diabetes, Ludwig wrote in a 2011 JAMA commentary. Consider: A 10-ounce, 90-calorie portion of strawberries has 5 grams of fiber, abundant vitamins and minerals, and dozens of phytochemicals, while a 1-ounce portion of Fruit Gushers also has 90 calories, but virtually none of the fruit benefits.”
  4. Less-processed foods are generally more filling than their highly processed counterparts. “Fresh apples have an abundance of fiber and nutrients that are lost when they are processed into applesauce. And the added sugar or other sweeteners increase the number of calories without necessarily making the applesauce any more filling. Apple juice, which is even more processed, has had almost all of the fiber and nutrients stripped out. This same stripping out of nutrients, says Ludwig, happens with highly refined white bread compared with stone-ground whole-wheat bread.”
  5. Many supposedly healthy replacement foods are hardly healthier than the foods they replace. “In 2006, for example, major beverage makers agreed to remove sugary sodas from school vending machines. But the industry mounted an intense lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers to allow sports drinks and vitamin waters that—despite their slightly healthier reputations—still can be packed with sugar and calories.”
  6. Food industry pressure has made nutritional guidelines confusing for consumers. “As Nestle explained in her 2003 book ‘Food Politics,’ the food industry has a history of preferring scientific jargon to straight talk. As far back as 1977, public health officials attempted to include the advice ‘reduce consumption of meat’ in an important report called ‘Dietary Goals for the United States.’ The report’s authors capitulated to intense pushback from the cattle industry and used this less-direct and more ambiguous advice: ‘Choose meats, poultry, and fish, which will reduce saturated fat intake.’ Overall, says Nestle, the government has a hard time suggesting that people eat less of anything.”
  7. The food industry funds front groups that fight anti-obesity public health initiatives. “Unless you follow politics closely, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that a group with a name like the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has anything to do with the food industry. In fact, Ludwig and Nestle point out, this group has lobbied aggressively against obesity-related public health campaigns—such as the one directed at removing junk food from schools—and is funded, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, primarily through donations from big food companies such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Wendy’s.”
  8. The food industry works aggressively to discredit its critics. “According to the 2008 JAMA article, the Center for Consumer Freedom boasts that ‘[our strategy] is to shoot the messenger. We’ve got to attack [activists’] credibility as spokespersons.’ On its website, the group calls Nestle ‘one of the country’s most hysterical anti-food fanatics.'”

5 More Incredible Facts from About the Food Industry, by Lauren Passell published on April 2 2013, will round out the fun and scary facts about the food industry:

  1. “In 2008, a team of Dutch researches conducted an experiment. Test subjects were served foods with visible fat (bread with butter spread on it) and invisible fat (bread with baked-in butter). The people eating the food with hidden fat were hungrier and ate more, while the people eating the visible fat said they got fuller faster.”
  2. “When the army was creating MREs (Meal Ready to Eat), their research showed that big, distinct flavors can overwhelm the brain, making you feel full more quickly, something called sensory-specific satiety. Manufacturers used this discovery to create foods that pique taste buds without delivering the strong flavor that tells you to stop eating. So you won’t stop eating.”
  3. “In the late 1800s, John Harvey Kellogg opened a health complex in Michigan to promote a healthy lifestyle for Americans. He worried about Americans’ dependence on high-fat breakfasts like eggs and meat, so he created a boiled, shredded wheat food to serve to his patients. One day, while Kellogg was out of town, his brother Will put sugar into a batch of shredded wheat. Everyone loved his ‘Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flakes,’ and sweetened breakfast was born. The story exemplifies a common pattern in American food history: one ingredient is pegged as a problem (in this case, fat), and replaced with another (in this case, sugar.) Companies still pull the one-ingredient trick today, trading out a vilified ingredient and replacing it with another, usually equally unhealthy, ingredient.”
  4. “When bologna sales fell off, Oscar Mayer responded with a pre-packaged bologna meal. They wanted to add bread, but bread goes stale, so they opted for crackers. They found round-shaped cheese to score well in tests, but that was more costly to make, so they went with the square shape. And they decided to use a product called ‘cheese food’ instead of cheese, for its cheapness and pliability. Thus Lunchables were born.
  5. “Pepsi and Coke battle to be the number one cola beverage. But because the competition improves sales for both companies, and Americans drink more and more soda, both Coke or Pepsi win the ‘war.’

3 thoughts on “A Food Intervention: Think Globally, Act Locally

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  2. Randall Karpf says:

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