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. 


The food solutions to climate change

drawdownWow. Who would have thought that there are so many ways that we can reverse climate change. The Drawdown project, led by Paul Hawken is a game changer.  His project team details 80 ways we can take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. Drawdown is the point where globally we start to reduce atmospheric CO2.

The project groups the 80 interventions into 7 clusters, and the cluster that can generate the highest reduction – 31%, is FOOD! Between 2020 and 2050, food initiatives that are already underway can reduce CO2 by 321.9 gigatonnes.

Drawdown sectors

The graph indicates where the reductions can come. Food leads at 31%, followed by energy at 23%.

Surprisingly, efficiencies in refrigeration management is the single biggest item in the top ten CO2 reducers. Reduced food waste comes in at number three, contributing a 70.5 gig tonne reduction, with a plant-rich diet coming in fourth with a 66.1 gigatonne reduction. And I thought effective action was all about renewable energy and electric cars! But as Paul Hawken states, we all of these actions will make the difference.

Here is the full list of food interventions.

Food interventions 2

You can find more detail of there at the Drawdown website under the solutions menu and buy the book.

Science and advocacy with heart

For those that feel like climate change is too big for them to have impact, this food list and the other interventions provides lots of options for action. That is encouraging! What is also encouraging is the optimistic tone of the book. Paul Hawken writes:

If we change the preposition, and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world. We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is a human agenda.

At number six and seven on the list is “educating girls” and “family planning”. At number 62 is women smallholders. These are emancipating aspirations. According to Drawdown women feed many more people than the industrial food system:

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land. more>>

Here’s Paul Hawken. Its a long video, but well worth the watch!



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.

Professor Guy McPherson speaking in Whangarei

Professor Guy McPherson clearly and passionately advocates an urgent response to climate change. He will soon be in New Zealand touring with his Abrupt Climate Change: and Pursuing a Life of Excellence speaking tour, in Whangarei at the In Step Dance Studio, from 1.30 to 5.00 p.m. Saturday 26 November 42, Reyburn House Lane.

You can read more about Professor McPherson at his Nature Bats Last website and register for the event here.

Thanks to John Clarke for organising this event. Please pass this on through your networks.

The iPES-Food report – from uniformity to diversity

In June 2016 the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems released its first thematic report, From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. The report advocates the shift from industrial food systems to sustainable food systems.

The failure of the industrial food system is presented starkly in the figure below, from page 9 of the report.

iPES Food industrial food systems failure

Failures of the industrial food system.

In 2015 4.7 billion suffered from inadequate nutrition, that is 6 out of every 10 people. While other global systems are complicit in this failure, collectively we have failed, given the technology we have, the education systems and the exploitation of cheap energy sources.

The report states:

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: wide- spread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.

As someone working at the local level towards sustainable food systems, it is heartening to know that at the global level awareness of the failure of orthodox systems are rising, and there are organisations uniting people from diverse nations to take action. The transformation of our food systems is a place where we can think globally and act locally. Of all of the critical systems that support our economic and social well-being, food is a catalyst for change.

The report includes excellent analysis of the eight “lock-ins” that perpetuate the industrial food system. We can erode their influence with the opportunities emerging around the planet.

  1. Policy incentives for diversication and agroecology
  2. Building joined-up ‘food policies’
  3. Integrated landscape thinking
  4. Agroecology on the global governance agenda
  5. Integrated food systems science and education
  6. Peer-to-peer action research
  7. Sustainable and Healthy Sourcing
  8. Short supply chains .

I commend the work of the iPES-FOOD panel. Enjoy their report.


Our food story

Our Food Story

Today Our Food Story, an investigation into Northland’s food system is being published. It surfaces a compelling vision of the benefits accruing from a more connected and local food system. The executive summary from the document is reproduced below.

Thank you to my co-researcher Eloise Neeley for her superb work over summer to enable this report to happen.

Executive summary

We all eat it, and food has been fundamental to our economies for millennia. This report reveals opportunities to reshape our local food system with strong economic and social benefits. It is difficult to think of another industry as pervasive as the food industry. On the production side, it provides an economic base across our region, rather than being concentrated in Whangarei and Northland’s towns. On the consumption side it feeds whanau, but also patients in health facilities and customers in cafes, restaurants and hotels.

We are currently far from optimising the potential of the food system. Food distribution is dominated by corporations who primarily operate here to extract dividends for their shareholders, rather than support a “sticky economy”. Fast Food chains (also here to extract dividends) and supermarkets sell food that is often nutritionally deficient generating a plethora of diet based disease. The average weekly spend of New Zealand households is $61.90 on alcoholic beverages, tobacco and ready to eat foods, but only $22.60 on fruit and vegetables. Shifting this equation even minimally will have positive impacts.

This report focuses on food produced for local consumption. It integrates data from desktop research and interviews of 32 people involved in food production, consumption and outlets. It reveals opportunities to improve returns to growers while creating a stronger value proposition for food outlets. There are also exciting opportunities for added value processing. Data from two U.S. locations identify actual and potential new jobs generated by a re-invigorated local food system equating to between 233 and 477 jobs for Northland. The economic benefit of substituting 20% of produce imported into the region with local food sold through local food distributors and outlets, this would equate to additional economic benefits of $27.7 to $55.4 million annually for Northland.

The synergies between employment and enterprise generation, social cohesion and the potential to revolutionise positive health outcomes remain largely unexplored in Northland centres. We offer this report as a platform to generate momentum towards a more robust food system.

Our recommendations are:

  1. Investigate the feasibility of food hubs in Whangarei and other Northland Centres.
  2. Convene a regional discussion on the local food economy.
  3. Promote local food.

You can access a copy of the report here. Our Food Story: Understanding the market dynamics of fruit and vegetable production, distribution and produce outlets in Northland