Roughly 85% of the world’s population is provided with sufficient calories and protein. Only two-thirds of them however have access to adequate vitamins and micro-nutrients. The supply of many nutrients in the diets of the poor has decreased. In local food systems, a large number of nutrient-rich plants have disappeared. One of the reasons for this is an increase in the cultivation of staple food crops (rice, wheat and maize) in monocultures.
Malnutrition and disease often mutually reinforce one another in a fatal way. Although short-term measures, such as distributing vitamin A to pregnant women, can save lives in acute cases and alleviate symptoms, the sustainable improvement of health can only be achieved through long-term and integrated rural development measures (Synthesis, p. 54). The key to a balanced diet is the cultivation of a variety of plants with different vitamins and minerals.In recent years, efforts have been directed to analyzing the nutritional content of traditional, locally produced foods, taking into account food availability and eating patterns, in order to draw up dietary guidelines that are culturally meaningful and easily applicable in local conditions. Such food-based guidelines go beyond nutrients and food groups to a more holistic vision of nutrition based on how foods are produced, prepared, processed and developed. The health implications of agricultural practices, production and distribution of food products, sanitary standards and common culinary practices are all considered. The guidelines encourage the consumption of locally available foods and healthy traditional dishes and suggest an increase in food variety based on healthy alternatives. “Eat local” campaigns geared towards supporting local agriculture have engendered awareness of the benefits of fresh foods, as well as renewed social interactions, contributing to overall community health (Global, p. 33-34).

New and Persistent Dangers

Food safety in developing and industrialised countries is threatened by new and persistent dangers. Microbial food contamination with bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites is currently topping the list of health hazards, often leading to acute symptoms.
Exposure to, or poisoning from, pesticides, heavy metals and other residues, such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) or synthetic hormones, often goes unnoticed due to the time it takes for symptoms to develop.

Increasingly expensive and complex technical safety standards, established in reaction to the growing health hazards of the global food system, bring with them a number of negative consequences. Small-scale producers are unable to comply with the requirements of complex traceability and labelling systems, created by industrialised nations and international corporations to monitor food from farm to fork. In industrialised countries, they impair traditional forms of food production and food quality. Developing countries are often unable to bear the cost of these hygiene standards and monitoring systems. As a result they are commonly only applied to export goods, while simple and effective local security measures are not introduced.

Global controls?

Nowadays, our food remains in the chain of food production, processing, storage and distribution for extended periods of time. This makes controls more difficult and enhances the risk of intentional, undetected or accidental contamination of food.
Among the food safety risks associated with our globalised food system are the use of pesticides and fertilisers, the use of hormones in meat production and the use of additives in the food processing industry (Global, p. 111).

Infectious diseases transmitted between animals and humans rank among the most serious health risks in agriculture. Certain methods of cultivation favour the incidence of these diseases. Irrigation methods, for example, play a substantial role in the spread of malaria or other insect-borne diseases.
An additional danger to human health is the increasing antimicrobial resistance arising from the use of antibiotics in industrialised farming systems. As early as 1997, the WHO warned against the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production, as the development of resistance limits the antibiotic treatment of diseases. In a new report released in 2012, the WHO reiterates its warning about the evolving threat of antimicrobial resistance."There are currently 204 infectious diseases known to be spreading in both high- and low-income countries. 75% of these are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and humans. These diseases are directly threatening human health and posing an indirect threat to rural incomes and livelihoods due to resultant trade restrictions. The transmission of mad cow disease (BSE) and avian influenza (H5N1) are two high-profile examples of diseases that can be linked to low standards in the animal feed industry." (Global, p. 198)


Civil Society

  • Slow Food NGO which wants to counter the rise of fast food and fast life and the disappear- ance of local food traditions
  • PAN Pesticide Action Network North America works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecological alternatives
  • Center for Food Safety non-profit organisation campaigning against harmful food production technologies
  • Food Tank is focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters
  • Food Insight is dedicated to the mission of communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety
  • EWG Environmental Working Group offers research on chemicals in our food
  • Sustainable Table celebrates local sustainable food and educates consumers on food-related issues
  • Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced
  • Soil Association is part of the The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics which is working to stop the over-use of antibiotics in animal farming


Videos: Health

Interview with the director of Food Inc. and clips from the film

Trailer of Our Daily Poison


  • UNEP safe drinking waterUNEP safe drinking water
  • UNEP Health EconomyUNEP Health Economy
  • UNEP Malaria Climate ChangeUNEP Malaria Climate Change
  • UNEP Population improved SanitationUNEP Population improved Sanitation
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Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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