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. 

 

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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.

 

 

What is policy and how do we change it?

How change happens duncan greenOn the cusp of establishing a Northland Food Policy Council (or whatever we might call it) I have stumbled across a book that has thrown a lot of light on the policy universe. In How Change Happens, Duncan Green shares his knowledge as a long-time advocate for change. The book is available for sale, but is also free on Duncan’s website. The complexity of the policy environment is perhaps best expressed in the author’s quote of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are the hardest”.

This poses a compelling challenge for New Zealanders. Our nation is less than two centuries old. But hopefully we aren’t in for another three centuries of hard work. After all, we have the legacy of tikanga, British law and a broader and deeper legacy pieced together over humanity’s long social evolution.

Two pathways – global and local

Two trends encourage. The first is the growing body of international policy ranging from law to aspirational statements. Two highly relevant to sustainable food systems are the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Economic Ethic. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems are also shaping policy discourse at the global level. This trend seeks to distill universal values and principles to guide our peaceful and prosperous development.  For example, the Global Economic Ethic  advocates of the “principle of humanity” as the ethical yardstick for all economic action based on sustainability, respect, fair cooperation and the Golden Rule. These are underpinned by basic values for doing business globally:

  • non-violence and respect for life
  • justice and solidarity
  • honesty and tolerance
  • mutual respect and partnership.

The other emerging trend is toward greater local autonomy and self-determination. While hegemonic forces herd us like sheep towards a bland global consumerist culture, there is an encouraging shift in the opposite direction towards localism. Ideally, the most basic social unit, the family, will have autonomy to act within the broad parameters of evolving global policy.

global and localIn the context of food, ideally families will have choice to eat food that nourishes without their perception being clouded by commercial considerations – especially the rapacious food and medical corporations that privilege profit over health and well-being.

Valuing pluralism

According to Google, pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” In New Zealand, almost two centuries on from the birth of our nation we are struggling to come to terms with pluralism. Nineteenth century assumptions of European superiority created homogenising conceptions of right and wrong. Some are still clinging to a Eurocentric view of the world. From this perspective the only valid law comes from Western sources and the maxim “one law for all” dominates.

Before Europeans arrived here, Māori society functioned on its own indigenous policy framework – tikanga. The Māori Dictionary’s definition of tikanga embraces a range of synonyms for policy and related social regulation:

“The correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol – the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.”

Tikanga is itself pluralistic as it varies from place to place, and the authorities are the people of any particular location. Many Pākehā have struggled to accomodate tikanga in an unwavering belief in “one law for all” (as long as they get to determine who makes those laws). An example is the justice system. Although Māori constitute 15% of the population, they account for 51% of the male prison population. But attempts to develop the mare-based justice system are stymied by the “one law for all” mantra. Duncan Green observes that “customary (indigenous) law is often about making peace and reconciliation, rather than establishing guilt and redress” (page 104). Customary law can also be brutal. Duncan green advises us to both avoid a “west-is-best bias and a naive romanticism about the woking of customary systems” (page 106).

However, we can achieve a greater synergy between these two traditions in ways that best serve local communities. Can you see a future where this is the case? Do you pass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

There are signs of hope as co-governance agreements between Māori authorities and the crown become more common. The recent determination of the Whanganui River as a legal “person” is an encouraging sign. Is this any stranger than a corporation being a legal person (as they have been for the last 150 years)?

The interaction of the various actors involved in developing food policy in new Zealand will be greatly enhanced by Māori input. Ever since the accelerated alienation of their land in the mid 1800s, Māori have engaged in the struggle for justice, working through the courts and government. Their longer-term view of investment, focus on kaitiakitanga and commitment to retaining the land make them a powerful constituent of the food movement.

This is an attempt to explore some elements of policy. More will follow.

Why we need food policy

Our current food system doesn’t serve us well. My perception is that it has evolved into an ideal money making machine – for those who have positioned themselves to harvest the economic benefits. Most of us identify the dynamic below that would seek to lock us in to dependency on big players in the food and health industries.

food-dysfunction

A recent report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems identifies food system dynamics and advocates for a European Union Common Food Policy.

In Europe, as here, there is increasing consumer choice around food purchases, but little choice around the food systems that produce that food and deal with its consequences. Problems are exacerbated by siloed thinking, conflicting motives, disconnected policy and self-interest.

The need for new policy responses is made all the more pressing by the multiple crises now afflicting food systems in the EU and around the world, from burgeoning obesity to environmental degradation and pressures on farmer livelihoods. Our current political systems and policy frameworks are ill-equipped to address these crises. The policy tools affecting food systems do not respond to a set of agreed priorities. Instead, our food systems are the by-product of political compromises struck in various fora on the basis of various competing interests. The lack of a coherent food policy, cutting across sectors and joining up different levels of governance, means that accountability is hugely dispersed. When poor outcomes arise, no one can be held to account. With neither a pilot nor a flight plan, it is possible to ignore how badly food systems have veered off course (page 1).

The report positions this problem as a major opportunity. This resonates with our Northland experience.

Food is an entry point for joined up policymaking across multiple sectors and governance levels; sustainable food systems can provide a benchmark for actions in all of those areas. It is also a promising entry point for repairing democratic deficits and reconnecting European citizens with the policy measures put in place by their elected representatives (page 1).

The report is part of a “three year participatory process of Research, Reflection and Citizen Engagement”. With little sign of our government showing such resolve, we are at least raising awareness of the dire need for food policy reform. Please help – the first step is to engage. You can read the report here.

Joe Camuso on electric cars

Northland’s EV champion was recently interviewed by Tim Lynch on Green Planet FM.

joe-camuso-geen-planet-fm

Joe is seen around the North promoting electric vehicles, with strong support from NorthPower. His efforts are are bearing fruit as the number of EVs in northland continue to grow. You can hear his interview on the Green Planet FM website.

 

Growing the sticky economy

The defeat of Labour leader Andrew Little’s procurement bill is another reason to have a regional food policy council. The bill, Our Work Our Future, proposed an amendment to the the Principles of Government Procurement, and the Government’s Rules of Sourcing to include two considerations, job creation and fairness.

The bill was supported by Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and the Māori Party, but it was opposed by National, ACT and United Future. A National List MP, Paul Foster-Bell stated, “Jobs are not going to be created by trying to sell more things to ourselves,” and “And this bill is contrary to a number of our free trade agreements.”

The Government’s focus has been on driving down expenses and multinationals, with their  sophisticated systems and logistics, have been allies in that process. But if we factor in the negative externalities created by multinationals and the positive externalities created by fostering more local economic activity, any savings will prove to be minimal, or, false economy when total tax take is factored in.

The benefits of local procurement go beyond the benefits of jobs. There are social, economic and environmental benefits. Our knowledge of the food system, for example, suggests that there are diverse benefits from increasing local provision to name just a few:

  • more jobs, and therefore greater prosperity
  • reduced carbon emissions (through shorter food chains and supporting soil sequestration)
  • strengthening of rural communities.

If we look back over time, a number of multinational food service companies have arrived and established themselves here. They have significant resources to secure a foothold in local markets. One strategy is to identify key staff from local competitors and poach them, with the combined impact of reducing the local competitor’s capability and providing the newcomer with ready-made networks. If they face significant local competition, they can draw on head office for support. These multi-nationals have been seeking long contracts to embed themselves. Once they have achieved a foothold and they are the incumbents – they have an advantage in future government tenders. Thus an unlevel playing field emerges.

Fact based policy

It would be nice to think that government policy is based on evidence. Our research into the Social and Economic Impacts of the Whangarei Growers Market, reveals a 2.99 economic multiplier when local food displaces food from outside the region. This fits within a multiplier range of 2 to 4 times reported internationally. The 2.99 multiplier is based on the grower to customer transactions at the growers market, but what if we add in more complex value chains, for example, food cooked in restaurants, and that includes dry goods sourced from local or national suppliers. And what if we factor in the health benefits as we foster a greater appetite for local food?

benefits-of-local-procurement

Examples of benefits of local procurement

These multipliers are the basis of the “sticky economy” – an economy where money circulates longer locally. By contrast companies owned offshore are more likely to extract money for dividends to shareholders, head office costs and offshore suppliers. You can see a video explaining the multiplier here.

Kiwibank has a counter that calculates the quantity of bank profits lost offshore. This counter started from 28 October, 2016. You can get an update here. The total for the year to  31 March 2016 was $4.525 billion. Imagine if half of that money remained in New Zealand and we factored in the local multiplier. We don’t know how much of the Government’s $40 billion expenditure goes offshore, but with multipliers applied, this figure would be significant.

kiwibank-counter

It is very difficult to quantify these impacts in dollar terms, but the assumptions that support the rejection of this bill need to be challenged.

I am not against globalisation and regard myself as a global citizen. But the shareholder ownership structures that characterise most of the foreign companies that operate here are driven primarily to extract profits for those shareholders. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub argues for a balance between globalism and localism.

Let’s trade internationally, but do it intelligently. Enabling extractive foreign companies free reign here is not in our best interests.

Murry Burns on food safety plans

Murry Burns, one of the two founders of the Whangarei Growers markets featured on Radio NZ Bulletins today.

He is commenting on the impact of food safety plans mandated by the The Food Safety Law Reform Bill. This was featured in an earlier post about artisan cheese makers.

As discussed in the earlier post, a Food Policy Council would be a voice in policy for smaller food producers on this and related issues. Local Food Northland are working on this now.

“If I am forced to wash my greens in chlorine and use fungicide like the big producers I will simply close my business.” Murray Burns

Here is an image from Hydro Healthy’s Facebook Page. Nicki comments that “when there are frogs in the water, it shows how clean and pesticide free the water we grow in is”. Murry and Nicki have developed an innovative hydroponic system that integrates chooks and liquid composts into the growing media.

frog