Strong conclusions from the latest report of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food). The way we produce, market, prepare, consume and waste food comes at a cost from a public health point of view, because good nutrition is one of the foundations of good health.
The report identifies and analyzes five channels through which food systems affect health:
- People who work along the food chain often fall ill because they work in unsanitary conditions, exposed to risks. Thus, for example, pesticides are responsible for about 200,000 deaths each year from severe poisoning, 99% in developing countries.
- People get sick from exposure of the population as a whole to pollutants in the water, soil, and air, and from exposure to diseases transmitted by livestock.
- People also get sick from eating contaminated food. In 2010, there were an estimated 600 million cases of food-borne illness, and some 420,000 deaths from this cause.
- People get sick because they eat unhealthy diets. Obesity has an economic impact similar to smoking or the combined costs of gun violence, war and terrorism, that is, two trillion dollars a year.
- People get sick because they cannot access adequate food at all times, that is, they are exposed to food insecurity.
Among the causes of these negative health impacts, we can point out the agrochemical-intensive monoculture systems, intensive livestock production, the mass production and marketing of ultra-processed foods, and the development of unregulated and dangerous food chains.
Faced with this, a reform of the agri-food systems is urgently required to guide them towards health protection. This will require taking into account that the impacts of food systems on health are interconnected, complex, have synergistic effects, are affected by multiple factors and involve multiple agents. This complexity is real and challenging, but it should not be an excuse for inaction. Furthermore, the low visibility and power of the groups most affected by these negative impacts make it difficult to fully understand these impacts, leaving significant aspects in blind spots.