Let me count the ways… food makes us sick

A new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) outlines how industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways. An Overwhelming Case for Action lead author Cecelia Rocha says “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

This infographic from the report summarises the carnage and the resulting economic impact.

IPES Food costs of health impacts

In addition to highlighting the perils of the industrial food system, the document identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems. Among these are lines of action we can all champion.

  1. Promoting food systems thinking.
  2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.
  3. Bringing the alternatives to light.
  4. Adopting the precautionary principle.
  5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

This report follows on from their ground-breaking first report From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. 

 

Advertisements

Food policy from our election candidates

The Northland Food Policy Council is asked political candidates from the Far North, Rodney, Te Tai Tokerau and Whangarei electorates five questions. Their responses are published here. Please pass this link on through your networks.

film-test-parliament-grounds-panorama-2006-murray-hedwig-photo

Here are links to the candidates’ responses. Each electorate has its own webpage.

The questions

1: What do you think your role as an MP or potential MP is in our region’s food system?

2: Should NZ be protecting prime agricultural/horticultural land from urban sprawl? What’s your position on how best to do this?

3: The World Health Organisation recommends implementing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as a measure of reducing childhood obesity. NZ has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD.  Are you in favour of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages?

4: Do you support Local Councils having the power through the Resource Management Act to declare Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)/Genetic Engineering (GE) free growing zones in their regions?

5: How will you ensure that food system policy, such as the Food Act is scale-appropriate for small and medium scale farmers, growers and producers (e.g. on farm meat processing).

 

Building momentum towards a sustainable food system

Every project I’m involved with aspiring to move from an industrial food system to a sustainable food system reinforces the critical importance of connecting people. In Northland we have a lot of organisations aspiring to improve our food system. They range from environmental groups and landowners working to improve waterways, health workers, farmers and growers, marae-based groups, co-operatives, educationalists and researchers to name a few. The problem is, we are barely aware of what each other are doing.

Collectively, I am sure that there are a lot of us. But we fail to leverage our collective voice.

The development this year of the Northland Food Policy Network encourages me. Its a group of volunteers of similar diversity expressed above advocating to influence policy. Our success will be proportional to our ability to connect with others of like mind to generate momentum for change.

The industrial food system has super-tanker momentum! It has slick and seductive marketing, economies of scale, sophisticated supply chains and political influence. And perhaps most insidiously, it is the normal – the orthodox, with mostly unquestioned legitimacy.

This Guardian article identifies a similar dynamics for those advocating for climate change. Advocates for change are often left to work on individual efforts while the neo-liberal agenda actively seeks to shore up the status quo and feed our oil addiction.

Duncan Green, author of How Change Happens (get if free here) outlines the power gradient that is fundamental to change in this video:

  • power within (when the individual finds ways to change)
  • power with (when connections are made with likeminded others)
  • power to (the capability to decide actions and carry them out)
  • power over ( the power to effect and embed change).

Those of us focussed on food system change have taken steps to make connections and are developing the capability for collective action. Our ability to influence will be determined by our ability to make ongoing connections.

Another useful idea from this video is Duncan Green’s power analysis adapted below. Those with high concern about issues, but low influence have to find their collective voice, translate it into action and engage and influence those who have influence but are not engaged to change. We need to reach out to landowners and supermarkets for example.

influence and concern

Follow this link for more on change, based on Duncan Green’s thinking.

A way forward

Two projects that Local Food Northland are working on are supporting the change dynamics. We are supporting the Northland Food Policy Network and Clive McKegg is leading a project to develop a database of individuals and organisations with common aspirations. We are fully aware that a data base is only part of the engagement equation. We need to engage kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).

What can you do?

If you want to see a food system that serves people by supporting our health, building our economy and sustaining our environment, one practical step is to help us connect with organisations that you are aware of that want these outcomes too. Please contact us or leave a comment below.

Child obesity – another damning report

Hot on the heels of the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Council released a policy brief on a sugary drink tax comes the University of Auckland’s Health Food Environment Policy Index. Professor Boyd Swinburn claims the Government lacks the political will to stand up to the food industry and push the necessary policies through.

Professor Swinburn would like to see more community action to see this elevated in the governments perception from a problem to an urgent problem. Action on food quality in schools is a “no brainer” according to Professor Swinburn.

Here is his Radio New Zealand interview.

Sugary drink tax

The New Zealand Beverage Guidance Council released a policy brief on a sugary drink tax. In New Zealand sugary drinks contribute to 26% of the sugar intake of children, exposing our children to a range non-communicable diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gout and dental caries. The policy brief also reports a link between a high sugary drink intake and cancer and impaired cognitive development.

Given the heinous risks we are exposing our children and mokos to, the $1.00 per litre tax they are suggesting (alongside the option of a 50 cents a litre tax) seems like a great idea. Suggestions for spending the resulting $65 to $100 revenue seem appropriate:

  • Provision of better infrastructure to support availability of sugar free alternatives such as water fountains in which kids/adults work, learn, live and play
  • Facilitate initiatives to work with schools in challenged areas to enhance better nutrition at school
  • Promote more sports in schools, displace beverage and food industry sponsorship agreements in youth sporting ventures (in both school and club settings)
  • Fund a national roll-out of Healthy Families New Zealand. Note current cost is $10 million per year for a quarter of the NZ population. A further $30 million per year is needed to grow this initiative allowing national coverage.
  • Ensure funds are used to support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as identified by the United Nations.

 From slavery to obesity – the history of sugar

sugar james WalvinKathryn Ryans interview of Professor James Walvin on the history of sugar emphasised its impact on history over the last five centuries. The majority of the millions of African slaves shipped across the Atlantic worked to produce sugar so Westerners could sweeten their drinks. The sugar story is also about the rise of activism to change public opinion as covered elsewhere on this website.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, courageous and visionary people advocated for the abolition of slavery. One of their weapons was a sugar boycott. We can emulate their spirit and conviction and give our children a better chance of growing up healthy.

You can access Kathryn Ryan’s interview here.

 

 

Lets make sugar an election issue

Eight countries, several U.S. jurisdictions and eight Island countries and territories have implemented taxes on sugary drinks (Wikipedia). In 2016 the WHO urged all countries to  impose a tax recommending 20%. Yet our politicians and health authorities seem to be asleep at the wheel on this issue. Jamie Oliver sums it up nicely.

And shame on the Auckland DHB for refusing to host the FIZZ conference at Auckland Hospital finding the issue too political! This sounds more like China heavying us about the Dalai Lama! Here is an example of the advice the Minister is getting from the Ministry of Health. This recent post reveals other dodgy policy stances from our government.

The evidence

The mantra used by our politicians is that the evidence is not there. Don’t believe the spin. Its trickling in now and will soon be a flood. Here are some examples.

Meanwhile, the Obesity Update 2017 Report from the New England Journal of Medicine ranks New Zealand as third in the OECD for obesity rates at 30.7% behind the U.S. (38.2%) an Mexico (32.4%). Perhaps our politicians will wake up when we pass the Mexicans?

Spending the tax income

There are calls for the tax revenue to go to the health system, but that may be counter-productive until health professionals display more food system awareness than is evident now. Targeting the impacts of childhood poverty may generate the best impacts. In Mexico some of the revenue is spent on ensuring all schools have clean water supplies.

Ask your electoral candidates where they stand on a tax for sugary drinks.

Urban food policy – a new iPES-Food report

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.28.01 PMThe International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food) yesterday released a superb report What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen: Insights from Five Case Studies. You can access the reports here.

The five cities are Belo Horizonte, (Brazil) Nairobi (Kenya), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), The Golden Horseshoe (Toronto and neighbouring districts) and Detroit (U.S.A). Each city had its own recipe of successful initiatives to transform the food system. This diagram is from Belo Horizonte’s “Municipal Secretariat for Food and Nutritional Security” (SMASAN) summarises their main strategies.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.01.15 PM

Enablers

The report gleaned “enablers” of effective food system action from the 5 cities (pages 74 – 75).

1: Background and base-line research has been carried out to inform the policy.

2: Impacts are monitored and new data are collected throughout implementation.

3: Policy is continually or regularly reviewed and renewed.

4: The necessary policy powers and responsibilities exist at the local city government level.

5: Policy at the national level is supportive.

6: The ‘institutional home’ of the policy lends it strategic importance and/or provides channels of influence.

7: A governance body has been established to oversee the policy, that promotes accountability and efficiency.

8: Multiple city govern- ment departments are engaged with and committed to the policy.

9: Policy is developed through participatory process, involving both communities and city government (regardless of top-down or bottom-up origins) and actors across the food system.

10: Conflicts and ideological differences between actors are acknowledged and managed.

11: Part-funding is provi- ded by city government.

12: Overall funds obtained are su cient for implementation.

13: There are no restrictive conditions attached to funding.

14: High-level political commitment from city government is secured and leveraged.

15: Political commitment transcends electoral cycles.

I am grateful that we have international organisations like this to research food systems initiatives across the planet and shine the light on successful models of change.