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Need for healthy, quality food & preserving environment, says FAO chief
Wednesday, 12 June, 2019, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
The food systems of the future must deliver healthy and quality food for all whilst preserving the environment. This was stated by José Graziano da Silva, director general, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the inaugural session of The Future of Food, the two-day international symposium which brought together academics, researchers, policymakers, representatives from civil society and the private sector, parliamentarians and government agencies, and concluded in Rome recently.

Calling for a transformation of food systems to improve people's diets, he added, “We need to change our focus from producing more food to producing more healthy food.”

In fact, hunger is no longer the only major nutrition problem facing humanity. Currently, over two billion adults aged 18 or over are overweight, of which over 670 million are obese. Moreover, the increase in the prevalence of obesity between 2000 and 2016 has been faster than that of overweight at all age levels. Also, nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.

Projections estimate that the number of obese people in the world will very soon overtake the number of people suffering from hunger, which currently accounts for about 820 million.

There are several underlying factors driving the global pandemic of obesity and micronutrient deficiency, such as rapid urbanisation.

One of the main drivers is the high consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are mainly based on artificial ingredients. It contains high levels of saturated fats, refined sugars, salt and chemical additives.

Improving people’s diets
Graziano da Silva put forward four measures that could improve people’s diets.

Firstly, countries should put in place public policies and laws with proper incentives that protect healthy diets and encourage the private sector to produce healthier food.

Examples include taxes on unhealthy food products; easier-to-understand and more comprehensive food labels, and restrictions on advertising of food, particularly for children.

Secondly, governments should promote the consumption of local and fresh food by creating local circuits of food production and consumption. This means improving access to and promotion of local, fresh food.

Thirdly, international trade agreements must be designed to influence food systems in a positive way, as ultra-processed foods tend to fare better in international trade.

“Unfortunately, not all food that is considered safe is healthy. Trade must enable ways to bring healthy food to the table,” said Graziano da Silva.

“Fourthly, the transformation of food systems starts with healthy soils, healthy seeds, and sustainable agricultural practices. The whole food system needs to be readdressed,” he added.

Graziano da Silva also highlighted the need for growing food in ways that preserve the environment.

He noted that the agricultural model that resulted from the Green Revolution is no longer sustainable as high-input and resource-intensive farming systems have increased food production, but at a high cost to the environment, generating deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The FAO chief also lauded the role of academia in the transformation required for global food systems. “We benefit from your work, and we need your guidance on what to do in the future,” he added.

More about the symposium
The Future of Food symposium included panel discussions on specific themes - research, knowledge gaps and needs for sustainable food systems and healthy diets; governance of food systems for healthy diets; building consumer confidence in food systems, and what it takes to transform food systems.
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