Quantcast

Total Health Costs of Industrial Food Systems Are 'Staggering'

A new report by international experts draws significant linkages between industrial food and farming practices and many of the "severest health conditions afflicting populations around the world," from respiratory diseases to a range of cancers and systematic livelihood stresses.

The report was released on Oct. 9 and is titled, Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems. It was produced by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.


The report aims to estimate the global aggregate human and economic costs of the various ways industrial food and farming systems are making people sick. Ruth Richardson, the executive director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, called the report's conclusions "staggering" and "difficult to ignore."

To underpin their calculations, IPES-food reviewed the available evidence in five key areas of impact: occupational hazards to food and farm workers; environmental contamination; contaminated, unsafe and altered foods; unhealthy dietary patterns; and food insecurity.

They found that malnutrition costs the world US$3.5 trillion per year, while obesity alone will cost US$760 billion per year by 2025. They found that combined European Union and U.S. losses from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals amount to US$557 billion per year, while antimicrobial-resistant infections are already thought to be incurring US$20 billion to US$34 billion of annual costs in the U.S.

Health impacts in food systems generate major economic costs in addition to the severe human costs. This illustration brings together some recent annual estimates of the most costly impacts associated with food systems.IPES-Food / Global Alliance for the Future of Food

"What is troubling is how systematically these risks are generated—at different nodes of the chain and in different parts of the world," wrote IPES-Food Co-Chair Olivia Yambi.

The authors found that negative health impacts are experienced unequally and that "the low power and visibility of those most affected by food systems jeopardizes a complete understanding, ... leaving major blind spots in the evidence base."

Lead author Cecilia Rocha wrote, "the industrial food and farming model that systematically generates negative health impacts also generates highly unequal power relations. Powerful actors are therefore able to shape our understanding of food-health linkages, promoting solutions that leave the root causes of ill health unaddressed."

When the terms of the debate are set by powerful actors, including the private sector, governments and donors, "the prevailing solutions obscure the social and environmental fallout of industrial food systems, ... reinforcing existing social-health inequalities," according to the report.

The members of IPES-Food say that complexity "should not be an excuse for inaction." "We know enough to act," they wrote.

The report identifies five key leverage points for building healthier food systems: i) promoting food systems thinking at all levels; ii) reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good; iii) bringing the positive impacts of alternative food systems to light; iv) adopting the precautionary principle; and, v) building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

IPES-Food Co-Chair Olivier De Schutter, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, wrote "when health impacts are placed alongside social and environmental impacts, and the mounting costs they generate, the case for action is overwhelming. It is now clearer than ever that healthy people and a healthy planet are co-dependent."

Sponsored
IKEA is working on a specially-designed, air-purifying curtain called the GUNRID. IKEA

Air pollution within the home causes 3.8 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. A recent University of Colorado in Boulder study reported by The Guardian found that cooking a full Thanksgiving meal could raise levels of particulate matter 2.5 in the house higher than the levels averaged in New Delhi, the world's sixth most polluted city.

But soon, you will be able to shop for a solution in the same place you buy your budget roasting pans. IKEA is working on a specially-designed, air-purifying curtain called the GUNRID.

Read More Show Less
The first member of the giant tortoise species Chelonoidis phantasticus to be seen in more than 100 years. RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP / Getty Images

A rare species of giant tortoise, feared extinct for more than 100 years, was sighted on the Galápagos island of Fernandina Sunday, the Ecuadorian government announced.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Elena Pueyo / Moment / Getty Images

By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS

Opinions on coffee vary greatly—some consider it healthy and energizing, while others claim it's addictive and harmful.

Read More Show Less
Morning fog over a boreal forest in Alaska. Alan Majchrowicz / Stockbyte / Getty Images

By Jennifer Skene and Shelley Vinyard

For most people, toilet paper only becomes an issue when it unexpectedly runs out. Otherwise, it's cheap and it's convenient, something we don't need to think twice about. But toilet paper's ubiquity and low sticker price belie a much, much higher cost: it is taking a dramatic and irreversible toll on the Canadian boreal forest, and our global climate. As a new report from NRDC and Stand.earth outlines, when you flush that toilet paper, chances are you are flushing away part of a majestic, old-growth tree ripped from the ground, and destined for the drain. This is why NRDC is calling on Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of Charmin, to end this wasteful and destructive practice by changing the way it makes its toilet paper through solutions that other companies have already embraced.

Read More Show Less
Cycling advocates set up "ghost bikes," like this one in Brooklyn, in memory of bikers killed in traffic. Nick Gray / CC BY-SA

By John Rennie Short

As cities strive to improve the quality of life for their residents, many are working to promote walking and biking. Such policies make sense, since they can, in the long run, lead to less traffic, cleaner air and healthier people. But the results aren't all positive, especially in the short to medium term.

Read More Show Less