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11.02.2019 |

Massive decline in insects could lead to catastrophic collapse of nature

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Butterflies are in decline (Photo: CC0)

More than 40% of insect species could become extinct over the next few decades, leading to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, a new study has warned. According to the first global scientific review, published in the journal Biological Conservation, insects could even vanish within a century at the current rate of decline. The authors made a review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the world and systematically assessed the reasons behind the decline. They found that insect decline is not just a local phenomenon; the biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades,” they wrote in the abstract of the study. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Insect biomass is declining by a staggering 2.5% a year, the review found. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, one of the authors, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo from the University of Sydney, told the Guardian. “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

In terrestrial ecosystems, the taxa most affected were butterflies, Hymenoptera (the order comprising insects with membranous wings such as the wasps, bees, and ants) and dung beetles (Coleoptera). In addition, four major aquatic taxa (Odonata, Plecoptera, Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera) have already lost a large proportion of species. The authors write that affected insect groups not only include specialists that occupy particular ecological niches, but also many common and generalist species. But there is also a small number of species whose abundance is increasing. “These are all adaptable, generalist species that are occupying the vacant niches left by the ones declining. Among aquatic insects, habitat and dietary generalists, and pollutant-tolerant species are replacing the large biodiversity losses experienced in waters within agricultural and urban settings,” the abstract reads.

The study warns that habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanization is the main driver of the declines. They blame pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” the authors were cited by the Guardian. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” Additional causes are biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species, as well as climate change. Climate change is particularly important in tropical regions, but only affects a minority of species in colder climes and mountain settings of temperate zones.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian. The decline in insect populations will especially affect the birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he added. In order to stop the decline, decisive action is needed. According to the authors, “a rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide.” In addition, effective remediation technologies should be applied to clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments.” (ab)

04.02.2019 |

Radical rethink needed to tackle obesity and climate change, report

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Obesity is increasing worldwide (Photo: CC0)

Public health experts have called for a radical rethink of business models and food systems in order to tackle obesity, undernutrition and climate change. Governments must limit the political influence of powerful food and beverage corporations and prioritise the public good over commercial interests, according to a new report published by The Lancet Commission on Obesity in January. The report, which is the result of a three-year project led by 26 experts from 14 countries, says that three pandemics – obesity, undernutrition, and climate change – represent “The Global Syndemic”, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition. This syndemic “represents the paramount health challenge for humans, the environment, and our planet in the 21st century”. The authors argue that maligned economic incentives, lack of political leadership, and insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action. “At the moment economic incentives are driving us to over-produce and over-consume, leading to obesity and climate change,” said one of the Commissioners, Professor Corinna Hawkes from University of London. “At the same time many millions still do not have enough nutritious food, leading to undernutrition. It’s a warped system with an outdated economic model at its core,” she added.

The Commission identifies food and agriculture, transportation, urban design, and land use as the underlying drivers of “The Global Syndemic”. “Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories,” said Commission co-chair Prof Boyd Swinburn of the University of Auckland. “In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes.” The authors write that food systems, for all their past successes in feeding human populations and improving their health and life expectancy, are now becoming more industrialised, globalised, and dominated by large actors capable of economies of scale and of maintaining long supply chains. Agricultural systems tend to favour energy-rich staple food production, without sufficient attention to nutrient-rich foods. Furthermore, ultra-processed foods are a key driver of the global obesity pandemic; nearly 2 billion people are overweight or obese. The food system is also driving severe environmental damage, contributing up to 29% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions and causing rapid deforestation, soil degradation, and massive biodiversity loss. The authors stress that a fundamental reorientation of food systems is required – “superficial repairs at the edges will not deliver the global outcomes needed for the 21st century.”

The Commission developed nine recommendations and more than 20 actions to tackle “The Global Syndemic”. They call for national and international governance levers to fully implement policy actions which have been agreed upon through international guidelines, resolutions and treaties. The authors propose a legally binding Framework Convention on Food Systems, similar to the UN conventions on tobacco and climate change, to support countries in drawing up sustainable and healthy food policies. Municipal governance and civil society engagement should also be strengthened to create pressure for policy action at all levels. The report also recommends to reduce the influence of large commercial interests in the public policy development process so that governments can implement policies in the public interest that benefit human health, the environment, and the planet. Governments should adopt and institutionalise clear, transparent, and robust guidelines on conflicts of interest. “Vested interests constitute a major source of policy inertia that prevents change to the existing systems. For example, national food producers and transnational ultra-processed food and beverage manufacturers often exert a disproportionate influence on legislators and the policy making process,” the report says.

Governments should also create sustainable and health-promoting business models to shift business outcomes away from a short-term profit-only focus. “To achieve this goal, first, national governments should eliminate or redirect subsidies away from products that contribute to The Global Syndemic towards production and consumption practices that are sustainable for human health, the environment and the planet.” Reducing subsidies to oil companies and large monocultural agricultural firms would allow subsidies to be directed towards innovations in clean energy and transportation and healthy, local food systems. In addition, economic systems need to be created that include the costs of ill-health, environmental degradation, and greenhouse-gas emissions in the costs of products.

Governments should also ensure information is readily available to consumers on the environmental footprints and health impacts of products. “People must be aware about the pros and cons of what they eat, and be encouraged to eat healthy food. Yet consumers often do not even know what they are consuming because labels do not provide understandable information,” writes José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, in a comment. “Consumers must be empowered to make informed healthy dietary choices.” The authors expect that full disclosure would create a demand-driven pressure for businesses to shift to healthier and sustainable practices and products. “We need far-sighted policy makers and private sector leaders to drive forward actions that produce benefits for obesity, undernutrition, economy and sustainability,” says Prof Hawkes. (ab)

28.01.2019 |

Scientists call for a shift to healthy diets from sustainable food systems

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The planetary health diet is mainly plant-based (Photo: CC0)

Feeding a growing population of 10 billion by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet is possible but we need to change dietary patterns, improve food production and reduce food waste. This is the message of a major new report published by the EAT Lancet commission in mid-January. It was written by 37 scientists from 16 countries with expertise in various fields including health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems and political governance. “Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both,” the authors warn. Current diets are one of today’s greatest causes for ill-health worldwide. They are not only increasing the burden of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, but are also damaging the planet. “Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience. It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries,” said Prof Johan Rockström, co-chair of the commission and one of the lead authors. “A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”

The authors argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. Therefore, they developed detailed science-based targets for both healthy diets and sustainable food production. The “planetary health diet” requires global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by about 50%, while the intake of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must double. “To be healthy, diets must have an appropriate calorie intake and consist of a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars,” says co-chair Dr Walter Willett from Harvard University, USA. The planetary health diet allows 2,500 kilocalories per day and consists of about 35% of calories as whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants. It includes only 14g of red meat per day but 500g per day of vegetables and fruits. “The food group intake ranges that we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, and individual dietary preferences – including numerous omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets.” The authors found that the global adoption of the reference dietary pattern would improve the intakes of most nutrients and could avert between 10.9-11.6 million premature deaths per year.

A shift towards the planetary health diet would also achieve the second target of sustainable food production, making sure that the global food system exists within planetary boundaries. “Five key environmental processes regulate the state of the planet,” explains Rockström. “Our definition of sustainable food production requires that we use no additional land, safeguard existing biodiversity, reduce consumptive water use and manage water responsibly, substantially reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, produce zero carbon dioxide emissions, and cause no further increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.” The authors stress the need to decarbonise the food value chain from production to consumption by 2050 and to maintain greenhouse-gas emissions at or less than 5 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for methane and nitrous oxide associated with food production. “There is no silver bullet for combatting harmful food production practices, but by defining and quantifying a safe operating space for food systems, diets can be identified that will nurture human health and support environmental sustainability,” Professor Rockström added.

The Commission proposes five strategies to adjust what people eat and how it is produced. First, policies to encourage people to choose healthy diets are needed. Alongside advertising restrictions and education campaigns, affordability is also crucial, and food prices must reflect production and environmental costs. As this may increase costs to consumers, social protection for vulnerable groups may be required. Second, agriculture needs to be refocused from producing high volumes of a few crops, most of which are used for animal production, to producing a diverse range of nutritious foods from biodiversity-enhancing food production systems. Third, the authors say we need to sustainably intensify agriculture by reducing yield gaps on cropland, improving the efficiency of fertiliser and water use, recycling phosphorus, implementing climate mitigation options and enhancing biodiversity within agricultural systems. They also call for an effective governance of land and ocean use, for example through protecting intact natural areas on land, prohibiting land clearing and restoring degraded land. Finally, food waste must be at least halved. “Designing and operationalising sustainable food systems that can deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population presents a formidable challenge,” said Rockström. This requires nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution. (ab)

22.01.2019 |

‘We are fed up!’: 35,000 march in Berlin for sustainable farming

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35,000 took to Berlin’s streets (Photo: Nick Jaussi/www.wir-haben-es-satt.de)

Thousands took to the streets of Berlin last Saturday, 19 January, to demand a new food and farming policy that benefits small farmers and protects the environment. Farmers, consumers, conservationists, beekeepers and food activists joined the march which was led by 171 tractors and ended in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Equipped with colourful posters and creative costumes, some 35,000 people walked under this year’s motto “Axe EU funds for agro-industries!”. Many dressed up as cows or pigs, others buzzed across the city as butterflies. Protesters lay down in the street, reenacting the dying of bees and insects due to the use of pesticides. A giant dead bee, upside down, was floating in the air, carrying the slogan “Agroindustry kills”, while a ladybird pleaded “Keep me alive. Agricultural reform now!”. Farmers from all parts of Germany had travelled for many hours by tractor in order to take part. The event was organised by a broad alliance of more than 100 farmers’, environmental, animal welfare and development organisations, known as “Wir haben es satt!” (we are fed up). 2019 marks the ninth year in a row that protesters gather in Berlin during the International Green Week – Europe’s biggest agricultural fair that currently takes places in the capital.

The protesters called on the German government to change course in agricultural policy. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is currently being reformed, meaning that the German government will have the chance to decide what type of farming will be fund with taxpayers’ money. The alliance argues that public subsidies should only be used to support sustainable and climate-friendly agriculture, animal welfare and small-scale family farms and farming communities that produce good food for all. “With over €6 billion that Germany distributes every year as EU farming subsidies, environmental and animal-appropriate transformation of agriculture must be promoted,” said Saskia Richartz, a spokesperson for the alliance. In Germany, €6.3 billion of EU agricultural funds are distributed to farms every year, more than three-quarters of which are per-hectare subsidies. This favours large, industrial farms. The 3,300 largest businesses receive €1 billion in subsidies a year, while the smallest 200,000 farms have to share about €700 million. “European agricultural policy must be changed: only those who respect animal welfare and protect our environment should receive EU money,” said Hubert Weiger, Chair of BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany. “We need a strong Europe, but it needs to become more environmentally just and sustainable, and socially fair.” (ab)

14.01.2019 |

Cities could play a key role in pollinator conservation, study

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Make cities pollinator-friendly (Photo: A. Beck)

Cities could play a key role in conserving pollinators, new research shows. According to a study published in the journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”, residential and community gardens in urban areas are pollinator ‘hotspots’. “Urbanization is increasing globally, and it is thus crucial to promote management strategies that support key ecosystem services provided by urban biodiversity, such as pollination,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, given the threats to pollinators present in farmland, urban areas provide an increasingly important opportunity for pollinator conservation.” The research, carried out by scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading in collaboration with Cardiff University and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, assessed all major urban land uses for pollinators, including cemeteries, gardens and man-made surfaces. While there have been a few small-scale studies on pollinators in some urban land uses, this is the first study which considered cities in their entirety, they said. “We present a large-scale, well-replicated study of floral resources and pollinators in 360 sites incorporating all major land uses in four British cities.”

The study found that residential gardens and allotments (community gardens) are particularly good for pollinators. The researcher write that lavender, borage, dandelions, thistles, brambles and buttercups are important plant species for pollinators in urban areas which they use as food sources. Gardens are pollinator hotspots due to their extensive area, and allotments due to their high pollinator diversity and leverage on city-scale plant-pollinator community robustness. Robustness is a measure of how a community responds to species loss, the University of Bristol explained in a press release. Robust communities can survive the disappearance of some species but species loss in fragile communities leads to a domino effect of other extinctions. “By understanding the impact of each urban land use on pollinators, whether it is gardens, allotments, road verges or parks, we can make cities better places for pollinators,” said Dr Katherine Baldock, lead researcher from the University of Bristol.

The authors designed a new measure of management success based on community robustness that considers the stability of whole communities of pollinators, and not just individual species. They recommend that public greenspaces should be managed in a way they benefit pollinators. “Parks, road verges and other public greenspaces make up around a third of cities but have fewer pollinator visits and resources for pollinators than other land uses,” they said. Their research showed that increasing the numbers of flowers, for example by mowing less often, can help urban pollinators. The scientists also call for a better garden management. Gardens make up a quarter to a third of the area of UK cities and better garden management in new developments and existing gardens is likely to benefit pollinator conservation. Furthermore, city planners and local councils should also increase the number of community gardens in towns and cities. “Allotments have a high floral abundance and diversity as they host many weeds, in addition to flowers grown for cutting, and flowering fruit and vegetables. Allotments are also recognized as beneficial for human health and wellbeing,” they wrote in the journal. “Thus, expanding areas cultivated for urban food growing confers multiple benefits and should be incorporated into city-level planning strategies for pollinators,” they concluded (ab)

04.01.2019 |

Czech supermarkets must donate unsold foods, court confirms

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Czech supermarkets must donate unsold food (Photo: CC0)

Supermarkets in the Czech Republic must donate unsold products to food banks. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal against a new amendment to the national Food Act, aimed at reducing food waste. The amendment stipulates that all supermarkets in the Czech Republic with a retail area of more than 400 square metres must provide unsold but still edible food to charities which then distribute them to the needy. The law refers to products that do not meet certain retail standards, for example with respect to packaging or labelling, but are otherwise safe for consumption. A group of 25 members of the country’s upper house had lodged an appeal, arguing that the amendment was unconstitutional because it represented a kind of tax on food and was in breach of ownership rights. The group around Senator Valenta also protested against fines that can be imposed on supermarket chains for non-compliance with the law. The Constitutional Court rejected the appeal. The judges argued that the law was part of international efforts to combat food squandering, reduce waste levels and help the socially disadvantaged.

The Czech Federation of Foodbanks, which represents 15 organizations, welcomed the decision. “I regard it as a victory for reason over bureaucracy,” Veronika Láchová, director of the federation, told the Czech radio station “Radio Praha”. “Our statistics suggest that every quarter we save supermarket chains up to hundreds of thousands of crowns that they would otherwise spend on destroying food. We worked with them previously and they were aware of that even before this law came in. If they destroyed that food instead of donating it, that would be to disparage not just the value of human work but the value of what we do – and the value of those foods,” she added. Former Minister of Agriculture Marian Jurečka, who introduced the amendment in 2016, said on Twitter that the law now helps more than 100,000 people in the Czech Republic, Radio Praha reported. (ab)

27.12.2018 |

Triple burden of malnutrition persists in Europe and Central Asia

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Farm in Kyrgyzstan, a country with a high prevalence of undernourishment (Photo: CC0)

In Europa and Central Asia, significant progress has been made in reducing undernourishment over the past two decades. However, new evidence shows a stagnation of this trend, particularly in Central Asia. According to a report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on December 11th, almost 14.3 million adults, and some 4.7 million children in Europe and Central Asia suffered from severe food insecurity in the three-year period from 2015 to 2017. “While the prevalence of severe food insecurity in Europe and Central Asia at around 2 percent is far lower than the world average of 9.2 percent, it is still cause for concern especially in those countries with persisting hunger and malnutrition,” said FAO senior policy officer Ariella Glinni, the main author of the report. Central Asia is the subregion with the highest prevalence of undernourishment at 6.2% in 2017, up from 5.8% in 2015. Undernourishment remains an issue of concern especially in Georgia (7.4%), Uzbekistan (7.4%), Kyrgyzstan (6.5%), Serbia (5.6%), Turkmenistan (5.5%) and Albania (5.5%).

According to report, there are subregional differences, with a higher share of women in the Caucasus or Central Asia being affected by severe food insecurity than men. “This signals more fundamental gender inequalities in societies, reflected in access to food as well as food utilization,” Glinni said. “To ensure that all people, regardless of gender, have adequate food and nutrition, we need to promote coherent measures that can be taken at all levels and in different policy areas.” She added that there is also a need to better understand the situation of different population groups and to address the underlying issues such as poverty, economic and social inequalities, conflicts and other factors. Significant differences in nutrition levels were also observed between urban and rural areas. “In some countries in Central Asia, stunting among the poorest groups in rural areas was nearly twice as high as in cities,” said the report. “This underlines the importance of addressing the underlying conditions in poor rural areas of poverty, long-term insufficient nutrient intake, poor diets, and frequent infections.”

The authors point out that malnutrition in one or more of its three main forms – undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies – is present to varying degrees in all countries of the region. Often all three forms coexist, creating what is called the “triple burden of malnutrition.” The growing levels of overweight and obesity in the region are cause for serious concern. Across the Europe Central Asia region, 24.6% of the total population were obese during the period from 2000 to 2016 period, a figure representing 200 million obese people. In Turkey, 32.3% of the population were obese in 2016, followed by Belarus (26.6%), the Ukraine (26.1%) and the Russian Federation (25.7%). The report blames a transition in diets with increased intake of fat, sugar, meat, dairy, and processed foods, often accompanied by a more sedentary lifestyle. (ab)

18.12.2018 |

UN General Assembly says 'yes' to peasant rights declaration

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A victory for peasants worldwide (Photo: CC0)

The United Nations have finally adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. On December 17, a large majority of 121 countries, amongst them most Asian, African and Latin American member states, voted in favor of Resolution no. A/C.3/73/L.30 at the 73th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. Only eight countries rejected the resolution (Australia, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States), while 54 countries abstained from the vote, including Germany. The formal adoption represents the culmination of a historic process that was initiated 17 years ago by the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, supported by numerous civil society organizations. The declaration recognizes the rights and special needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including the rights to land, seeds, and biodiversity. “The approval of this new instrument signals a breakpoint,” the human rights organization FIAN International said in a statement. “The Signatory States have shown their concern over the particular conditions of discrimination suffered by peasant farmers, landless, rural workers, indigenous peoples, livestock herders, and small-scale fishers and their communities in all rural areas of the world.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also welcomed the adoption of the declaration. “Globally, peasants feed the world but their own enjoyment of their human rights is challenged, including their own right to food,” she said in a press release. “I hope this Declaration will serve to enhance States’ commitment at all levels to uphold and protect the rights and dignity of peasants and other people working in rural areas. They play a critical role in preserving our culture, environment, livelihood and traditions, and must not be left behind as we implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” she added. La Via Campesina stressed that the focus will now be on implementation. ”This declaration is an important tool which should guarantee and realize the rights of the peasants and other working people in rural areas. We urge all states to implement the declaration in a conscientiousness and transparent manner, guaranteeing peasants and rural communities the access to and control over land, peasant’s seeds, water and other natural resources,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and a farmer from Zimbabwe. “As peasants we need the protection and the respect for our values and our role in society to achieve food sovereignty.” (ab)

07.12.2018 |

Global burden of malnutrition remains unacceptably high, report

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Overweight and obesity among adults are at record levels (Photo: CC0)

The burden of malnutrition across the world remains unacceptably high, and progress unacceptably slow. However, although the world is off track, the chance to end malnutrition has never been greater. These are the messages of the “2018 Global Nutrition Report” released in Bangkok on 29 November. The comprehensive report on nutrition, written by an expert group, reviews existing processes, highlights progress in combating malnutrition, identifies challenges and proposes ways to solve them. According to the report, stunting declined from 32.6% of all the world’s children under 5 years of age in 2000 to 22.2% in 2017. In numbers, this is a decline from 198.4 million to 150.8 million children. Stunting among children in Africa has decreased in percentage terms from 38.3% to 30.3% over the same period. However, due to population growth, the actual number of stunted children has risen. There has been a slight decrease in underweight women since 2000, from 11.6% to 9.7% in 2016. Yet, while there has been progress, it has been slow and patchy.

On the other hand, overweight and obesity among adults are at record levels with 38.9% of adults overweight or obese, stretching from Africa to North America, and increasing among adolescents. Women have a higher prevalence of obesity than men, at 15.1% compared with 11.1%. Worldwide, 38.3 million children under five years are overweight. Beyond health, slow progress on malnutrition is also impacting the social and economic development of countries. It is estimated that malnutrition in all its forms could cost society up to US$3.5 trillion per year, with overweight and obesity alone costing US$500 billion per year. “The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause,” said Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the report and Director of the Centre for Food Policy. “The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths, while undernutrition explains around 45% of deaths among children under five.”

The assessment shows that just under 50% of countries are on course to meet at least one of nine global nutrition targets. However, no country is on track to meet all of the nine targets that are being covered in the report and just five countries are on track to meet four. Not a single country is on course to meet the adult obesity target. “The uncomfortable question is not so much ‘why are things so bad?’ but ‘why are things not better when we know so much more than before?’” said Hawkes. The report highlights that solutions already exist but the bad news is that effective ideas are not being adopted at scale. For example, studies show that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes are working effectively to reduce consumption of unhealthy drinks. In Mexico, an evaluation of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax found that sales of targeted beverages fell by 9.7% across the population two years after the policy was implemented. The greatest decline in purchases (17%) was seen among households of lower socioeconomic position. Similar studies in Chile and the US (Berkeley and Philadelphia) have also demonstrated the desired policy effect. “While malnutrition is holding back human development everywhere, costing billions of dollars a year, we are now in a position to fight it,” said Jessica Fanzo, co-chair of the report. “From policies such as sugar taxes, to new data that enables us to understand what people are eating and how we can best target interventions, the global community now has the recipes that work.”

The authors call for better political commitment to end malnutrition in all its forms. They mention new nutrition policies developed in China as an example. The country is facing the second-largest undernourished population, with overweight and obesity levels rising at alarming rates and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes on the up. To address this, China developed two plans with the potential to transform malnutrition. The National Nutrition Plan (2017–2030), released last year, includes a range of malnutrition targets including stunting, obesity, anaemia, breastfeeding and folic acid deficiency among vulnerable people. Among the measures of the plan are nutrition monitoring, new dietary reference intakes, screening programmes, a campaign to promote healthy lifestyles, recommended limits for sugars, fats and salt in packaged foods, nutrition labelling in cafes and restaurants, standards on fortified foods, and education on healthy diets. It recommends a balanced diet combining cereals, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk and soy. (ab)

28.11.2018 |

Climate change to disrupt agricultural productivity in the U.S., report

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Climate change is a reality - believe it or not (Photo: CC0)

Climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories, warns a federal report released on November 23. The second volume of the “Fourth National Climate Assessment” (NCA4), published by the United States Global Change Research Program, was compiled by more than 300 experts, including individuals from federal, state, and local governments, indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector. The report concludes that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.” According to the authors, these impacts are projected to intensify, but how much they intensify will depend on actions taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the risks from climate change now and in the coming decades.

With respect to agriculture and food, the report says that rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods. The first key message of chapter 10 on agriculture and rural communities is that agricultural productivity will decrease. “Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock,” says the report. The authors also warn against the degradation of soil and water resources. “The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure.” The experts stress that management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.

The third key message is that high temperature extremes will pose enormous challenges to human and livestock health. “Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock will result in large economic losses for producers. The authors also warn that residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. According to chapter 21 of the assessment, climate change is expected to have wide-ranging impacts on the Midwest. “The Midwest is a major producer of a wide range of food and animal feed for national consumption and international trade. Increases in warm-season absolute humidity and precipitation have eroded soils, created favorable conditions for pests and pathogens, and degraded the quality of stored grain.” The scientists found rising temperatures and more frequent, intense rains are likely to reduce agricultural production in the Midwest to levels seen in the 1980s by 2050. Commodity crops like corn could see reduced yields of 5 to over 25% across the Midwest.

“How many wake-up calls do we need?” said Carol Werner, Executive Director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). “Every new National Climate Assessment has built on the previous one, confirming that climate change is already happening, and that we need to act,” she added. “Time is running out.” The Trump administration released the report on Black Friday, when Americans traditionally go shopping and spend time with their families, a date that critics said was chosen to bury the report. President Trump told reporters on Monday: “I’ve seen it. I’ve read some of it. I don’t believe it.” He said it makes no sense for the United States to take drastic steps to combat climate change when other countries, such as China and Japan, do not address climate change. “Right now we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been. It’s very important to me,” Trump added. “But if we’re clean but every other place on earth is dirty, that’s not so good,” he continued. (ab)

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