Quantcast
Food

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."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
350 .org / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action

Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From

It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

A Ghanaian Chef Feeding His Country and Combating Food Waste

Ghanaian chef Elijah Amoo Addo is on a mission to feed his nation on the excesses the food industry creates. Since 2012, he has been collecting unwanted stock or food nearing its use-by date from suppliers, farmers and restaurants in Ghana to redistribute to orphanages, hospitals, schools and vulnerable communities through his not-for-profit organization Food for All Africa. They provide meals through a Share Your Breakfast program in addition to donating stock to be used later. The organization supports and encourages communities to farm and works with stakeholders within Ghana's food industry on ways to combat waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Tucuxi Amazon river dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis). Projeto Boto

Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins

By Claire Asher

Populations of two species of river dolphin in the Amazon are halving every decade, according to the results of a twenty-two year survey.

The Amazon rainforest is home to the Amazon river dolphin, or Boto (Inia geoffrensis) and the Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). But the results of a long-term study published in PLoS ONE show that both of these once abundant aquatic mammals are now in rapid decline in the Brazilian Amazon, likely due to hunting and fishing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy

'Historic First': Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

Keep reading... Show less
Business

Sustainable Fashion Innovator Makes Fiber From Pineapple Leaves

In 1960, 97 percent of the fibers used in clothing came from natural materials. Today that number has fallen to 35 percent. But sustainable fashion veteran Isaac Nichelson wants to reverse that trend.

His company, Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corp.), has developed an innovative technology for turning food waste into thread, according to a Fast Company profile published Friday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment on April 26. EPA / YouTube

Chair of Senate Environment Panel to Call Scott Pruitt to Testify on Scandals

The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.

Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Pexels

Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

By Shannan Lenke Stoll

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote Thursday. It's one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!