Food security: food is not just an energy source, it keeps you healthy

The UK news services may now be focused on swine flu and the death toll of our soldiers, but food security (access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life) has not gone away. We all have to face up to it. AS I fight the daily battle with wasps…who, in a year when I finally managed to gain a decent crop of both plums and apples, have appeared out of nowhere to get to the fruit first…well, I despair of the wasted fruit, and I gain a little insight into the feelings of small farmers worldwide.

It is estimated that wastage due to pests, diseases and post-harvest spoilage accounts for 40% of the crops we grow. To that you can add all the food thrown away in the developed world because of busy lifestyles or paranoia about sell-by-dates. That buy-one-get-one free offer is not so worthwhile if you really didn’t need the extra one and it gets lost at the back of the fridge…..The UK Government's waste watchdog estimates that 4.1million tonnes of food is thrown away each year, at an average cost of £420 per household. The UK government is having a "Radical rethink on food"!

Food security is not just about providing adequate cheap food, so you can get through the day: it’s about reducing wastage, about growing it locally, about having an income so that you can buy the food if you can’t grow it and its about keeping you healthy. You need the right food …there are people in Afghanistan as I write existing on nothing but tea each day.

In the US, a study on the effectiveness of food stamps for poor people showed that their use encouraged obesity, probably because the food stamps value only gave them access to poor quality cheap food. (1). And you need to know how to prepare your food hygienically, which necessarily means access to clean water.

With an adequate balanced diet, your immune system functions properly protecting you from infections, you have reduced risks of non-communicable diseases…and, as nutrition research has entered the world of molecular biology, nutria-genomics and -proteomics, have moved us far beyond vitamins and trace metals, into the use of spices not just for flavouring but to fight infection (2), and an unforeseen role for carnitine in the control of diabetes (it reduces glucose levels in obese rats)(3).

On August 18 , we celebrate the first World Humanitarian Day: remembering the people and actions taken to meet past crises, including famine relief. If you look at the WHO site, under Global Food Crises you will find that there are 21 countries listed, unfortunately the same countries keep cropping up year on year. Take a look at the FAO's hunger index map and our 2007 blog entry on "(Not-so-)Happy World Food Day!"

Food security is exercising the minds of all governments, including those in the developed world, who, reacting to the deprivations experienced during the second world war, came up with a cheap food policy & thought they’d solved that particular issue… now they have to factor in the impact of climate change.

CABI has long been involved in improving agriculture in developing countries, making it sustainable, so as to provide an adequate food supply as well as a cashcrop. We have made a difference not just to the lives of smallholders & farm laborers, but to entire national economies. As well as the research expertise , we provide information in the form of our two databases Global Health and CAB abstracts, we publish books, and our compendia focus on reducing disease & crop wastage. Our Global Plant Clinics are one of most recent project successes.

Thus you can see that it makes perfect sense that CABI is hosting the CABI Global Summit "Food security in a climate of global change" on October 19-21, 2009 in London, UK….. and that anyone interested in food security should attend.

References

  1. Does the U.S. Food Stamp Program contribute to adult weight gain? Zagorsky J. L. & Smith P. K., Economics and Human Biology (2009), 7, 2, 246-258. doi:10.1016/j.ehb.2009.05.003 
  2. Immunomodulatory effects of curcumin treatment on murine schistosomiasis mansoni. Allam G. , Immunobiology (2009), 214, 8, 712-727. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071
  3. Carnitine Insufficiency Caused by Aging and Overnutrition Compromises Mitochondrial Performance and Metabolic Control. Muoio D. et al. ,J. Biol. Chem.(2009), 284, 34, 22840-22852.

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