16 October 2013

33rd World Food Day: Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition

The theme of the 33rd World Food Day is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”. The main message of the day is that ‘‘Healthy people depend on healthy food systems’’.

This theme is very timely as awareness grows of the impact of the dysfunctional world food system on human health, in rich as well as in poor countries.

By inviting each and everyone to reflect on questions such as ‘‘What would a sustainable food system look like? Is it possible to get from here to there? What would need to change to move us in that direction?’’ FAO implicitly acknowledges that the situation is far from satisfactory and that considerable change would need to occur for the world food system to be really sustainable and ensure a healthy world population.

Beyond discussions on the number of chronically hungry people in the world, and whatever the figure is, it is intolerably high. Hundreds of millions of people who do not eat sufficiently have a reduced work capacity and are less likely to graduate from poverty. Their children have limited prospects of social advancement because they are handicapped in their physical and intellectual development because of inadequate food. The increase of food prices observed during the last decade has attracted powerful interests to agriculture and their action has often contributed to worsen the situation by marginalising large groups of disadvantaged people. Even in rich countries, hunger and poverty have substantially increased during the last five years because of successive crises. Moreover, a growing fraction of the population suffers from overweight and related diseases, and around one third of total food production is either lost or wasted, thus generating pollution and uselessly emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gasses. [read]

There are also questions on the impact of food on health of producers as well as consumers. Because of the technologies they use, the former are exposed, often without sufficient protection, to dangerous products some of which are likely to cause cancer or degeneration. Residues of these dangerous products are also found in food as well as in the environment (air, soil and water) and their effect on human health, even if not irrefutably established, is a cause of concern. The agroindustry has adopted opaque procedures that generate worries and suspicion. It has been adding to food all sorts of products (salt, food colouring and various food additives) at the processing stage, the negative effects of which are increasingly proven. Voluminous packaging generates mountains of waste, the disposal of parts of which may generate the production of toxic gasses, while the rest are found, degraded, first in suspension in oceans and later in the fish and shellfish that are caught and consumed.

The negative of this rapidly drawn picture that some will probably find oversimplified helps however to identify the characteristics of a more sustainable and ‘‘healthy’’ world food system. The application of some basic principles would certainly help to change the present situation and make it evolve towards a more sustainable, healthy, just but also stable system which, instead of generating suffering, conflicts and death, would create more wellbeing, peace and justice.

Some suggestions for further reading:

  1. -World Food Day 2013 Issue Paper, FAO

  2. -Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably, on


Last update:    October 2013

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