Dear Friends and Colleagues
Manifesto on Food for Health: Cultivating Biodiversity, Cultivating Health
A Manifesto on Food for Health has been produced by the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture. It states that it is possible to create good health through good nutrition.
Health effects from the current industrial food system adversely affect every stage of human life and range from prevalent and growing undernutrition and malnutrition to a wide variety of chronic diet related diseases that are now the leading contributors to premature death and disability across the world. The Manifesto pays special attention to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which account for 70% of deaths (40 million lives) each year globally. Major NCDs include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases. A large proportion of NCDs are diet related, due to unhealthy diets causing disease.
The Manifesto calls for a transformation of the food system; transitioning away from a mechanistic and reductionist paradigm that degrades our land, our food, and our health to an ecological, systemic and regenerative one, i.e., agroecology. Agroecology is based on biodiversity and combines quantity and quality and maximizes the benefits to the health and wellbeing of the planet and its people. It is based on the realisation of rights to health and food security, and therefore requires a moving away from predatory globalization to local, diverse, cooperative, circular, solidarity economies for the common good and the planet.
The success of this transition will depend on the commitment of civil society, the private sector, governments and global institutions. The Manifesto provides recommendations for each of these sectors as a road map for successful transformation.
With best wishes
ON FOOD FOR HEALTH
Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture
Transforming Food Systems That Are Degrading The Planet And Our Health To Food Systems That Regenerate Health And Wellbeing
The people of the world are facing a health crisis that arises from multiple degradations in the manner of producing and marketing food. These degradations affect every dimension of the food systems upon which we all depend, from soil, water and seeds to production and processing and distribution, and involve, above all, the abandonment of natural and organic food systems, and accompanying diets that were the foundation of human health throughout the world, throughout most of known human history.
The root of the problem is the growing dependence on a dysfunctional productive paradigm that relies on chemicals such as pesticides and economies of scale to accelerate the quantities of food produced, not taking into account their nutritional quality and the harmful effects of these modes of production on people’s health and the ecosystem. These health effects adversely affect every stage of human life and range from still widely prevalent and growing undernutrition and malnutrition to a wide variety of chronic diet related diseases that are now the leading contributors to premature death and disability across the world.
Alarmingly, the harmful health effects of the globalised industrial food system extend across generations through transmissible epigenetic effects, commercial conditioning of family diets and health impact of climate change. We are creating a dark, uncertain future for our children, as evidenced by the growing epidemics of childhood obesity and early onset of diabetes. We cannot continue to create a society where our children and their children will be deprived of nutritional security because of the actions of commercial interests and inaction on part of governments and other stakeholders in society.
The justification for this emphasis on industrial agriculture, with its fossil fuel based chemical intensive agriculture and chemical intensive systems, centered around maximising production, is the need for sufficient food to feed a growing global population. However, nutrition empty commodities loaded with pesticides and toxics are not providing nourishment and health. They are, on the contrary, degrading the environment and our health by diminishing nutritional quality and diversity of food. Furthermore, the industrial agri-food system consumes an immense amount of fossil energy (producing almost a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions), thus contributing to altering the ecosystem in the short term (climate variability) and in the long term (climate change).
It is evident that, despite its exploitation of resources, industrial agriculture is not able to guarantee food security. Most of the food we eat is still produced by small and medium-sized farmers, while the vast majority of industrialised crops, such as corn and soya, are primarily used as animal feed or converted into biofuel.
This shift away from traditional farming based on time tested principles of agroecology – working in harmony with, not against, nature – along with the lack of significant investment in independent research and innovation by scientific institutions and governments, is due to the influence of a series of mega-corporations take-overs, driven by the quest for maximum profits and minimum regulation. These multinationals, which are steadily taking over land throughout the world, rely on huge quantities of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and modified seeds responsible for the loss of micro-nutrient content that is the foundation of healthy food, while poisoning citizens indiscriminately, from producer to user. This push-for-profits is packaged as ‘smart agriculture’ as remedy to adverse impacts of agriculture on climate change. It is crucial to recognise that the agriculture sector is a major component of what can be best described as ‘predatory globalisation,’ the control and management of the world economy to ensure the efficiency of capital rather than the wellbeing of people and the planet.
There is now a growing refusal of this way of satisfying the growing demand for food to implement the right to food for all while protecting the right to health as integral elements of human rights. The logic of the market is unfriendly to social and economic rights, and seeks to avoid recognizing the right to adequate, healthy, accessible and affordable food for all. To achieve food security for everyone on the planet depends on discarding policies and practices that lead to the physical and moral degradation of the food system while destroying our health and endangering the planet’s ecological stability, and endangering the biogenetic survival of life on the planet.
Not only is the nutritional quality of food sacrificed to reach quantitative goals but the great benefits of biodiversity are seriously reduced with the growing dependence on a handful of globally traded commodities coming from chemical monocultures, with harmful effects on the quality and range of seeds as well as the biodiversity of all species, including the contamination of soil and ground water, leading to a significant contribution to climate change. These high environmental and health costs are largely excluded from the pricing of food, creating the illusion that food produced with high financial, ecological and health costs is “cheap”.
Yet there exists a vibrant and growing alternative approach to food security and food production – Agroecology – based on biodiversity, which combines quantity and quality and maximizes the benefits to the health and wellbeing of the planet and its people. A new generation of farmers across the globe is increasingly conscious of their role in farming, in the defense of biodiversity, the defense and care of the land and the environment and in producing good and nutritious food. Across the world, farmers’ agroecology networks are springing up, becoming custodians of the emerging sustainable food production and agriculture practices while promoting the essential shift from the present extractive, linear approach to agriculture and food production, to one based on circularity, reciprocity and sharing, that lead to a brighter future for humankind.
This emerging paradigm of agriculture, food, nutrition and health is an alternative to the chemical based monoculture paradigm that degrades our land, our food, our health, and instead regenerates the health of the planet’s ecosystems and communities.
This new, and at the same time time-honoured approach is displacing the current damaging trends with policies, practices, and knowledge that ensure renewal. We interpret renewal to mean above all a revived reliance on the health potentialities of the natural food systems that work in harmony with nature, are based on food sovereignty and the return of seed into farmers’ hands, that are mindful of environmental impacts and contribute to preventing global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions produced by industrial agriculture and long distance trade.
The right to health can be realised only if the right to good nutrition is recognised, respected and realised. It is possible to create good health through good nutrition. For this we have to transform our food systems. This task is pivotal, not only for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 but also for ensuring human and planetary health for generations to come.
The transition to a new paradigm, based on the realisation of rights to health and food security, will depend on the commitment of civil society, the private sector, governments and global institutions. We believe that the renewal and adaptation of the best scientific and medical knowledge is necessary and possible, leading to a historic collaboration between popular movements and those experts attuned to the renewal of natural systems of food production and congenial social movements and initiatives, and a moral commitment to food justice as well as to human health
This manifesto is, above all, a call for responsible citizenship, which at once acknowledges the planetary dimensions of the challenge, calling for the supplementing of conventional ideas of citizenship of sovereign states with a boundary-less vision of planetary citizenship.
It also recognises that the new paradigm can only come into being through a felt reality of global community; a future-oriented project, through the rise of citizen pilgrims, those recognising that a journey to a more humane future is essential for safeguarding the health and life prospects of unborn generations.
In effect, we recognise that the renewal we call for is based on new, yet available, knowledge, and a moral commitment to food justice as well as to human health. We believe that the renewal and adaptation of the best scientific and medical knowledge are necessary and possible, and highly desirable, generating a historic collaboration between popular movements and those experts attuned to the renewal of natural systems of food production and congenial social movements and initiatives.