AUSTRALIA: The failure of the WHO trade talks should prompt leaders to rethink food and farming practices to combat obesity epidemic, an obesity expert says.
The global obesity epidemic cannot be halted by conventional means and demands a radical rethinking of farming and food production worldwide, a leading scientist warns.
Prof. Philip James, who chairs the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), said that the breakdown of the Doha round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on eliminating trade restrictions, offered a new opportunity to totally revitalize the world’s agricultural sector to make it both profitable and healthy.
In a keynote speech on agriculture and trade delivered to the International Congress on Obesity in Sydney, Australia, James, a former director of a British agricultural nutrition research institute and chair of the United Nations Commission on the Nutritional Challenges of the 21st Century, said that existing farm policies, particularly agricultural subsidies in the European Union and the United States, had been damaging people’s health for decades. James now leads the Global Prevention Alliance, a consortium of international NGOs concerned with preventing childhood and adult obesity and linked diseases.
“We have concentrated on using taxpayers’ money to featherbed the very parts of the food chain that are causing the obesity epidemic today,” James commented. “The over-production of oil, fat, and sugar, largely due to government subsidies to protect farm industry revenues, has contributed over decades to the health crisis we have today.
He added: “People have paid three times over – firstly in taxes to support hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies in the U.S., the E.U. and elsewhere, secondly in the resulting harm to their health and thirdly in the health insurance taxes and premiums required to cope with a major burden of preventable chronic diseases.”
There was a fourth cost in terms of jobs in developing countries, James said. The trade distortions generated by the use of public funds to prop up domestic sugar production in the U.S. and E.U. had cost more than one-million jobs among sugar growing developing countries.
James, a world authority who advised U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on how to set up Britain’s Food Standards Agency, and prepared the original blueprint for the E.U.’s Food Safety Agency, said governments needed to take a stronger lead in using the health clauses (Phyto-Sanitary Standards) allowed under WTO rules, to protect people’s health, but said that small countries were forced to accept the import of poor quality products for fear of losing trade privileges.
Some countries had some success in using regulations to control harmful dietary components. Denmark had effectively banned trans-fats with the possibility of a two-year jail sentence for willful breaches of the regulations, while in the United States, McDonalds had reached a court settlement of more than $8 million for failing to honor its pledge to remove harmful trans-fats from its products. In Ghana, the government had successfully regulated to control the proportion of fat allowed with meat imports, to reduce the amount of high-fat products entering the country.
On the other hand, James cited the example of the Pacific Islands, which had tried to block the import of “mutton flaps”, a particularly high-fat cut from sheep, on health grounds. Although obesity and diabetes are major health problems for the Pacific islanders, several island governments were pressured to accept the unhealthy imports for fear of financial reprisals.
“It is alarming that Australia is now exporting the same mutton flaps to China, a country which is trying desperately to combat a rising level of overweight and obesity in both adults and children,” James pointed out.
Web posted: September 6, 2006
For more about this topic see: Big Nutritional Changes in Recent History
Now for Ted Slanker's Commentary . . .
Many noted scientists still don't get it. Or do they? Grain crops are highly subsidized. Is this what Dr. Philip James is referring too? Grain?
For a couple of decades now other scientists have proven that properly balanced fats are required for optimal human and animal health. So what's the beef about fat? Why can't the word grain be used in the war on obesity? As grain circles the globe, so does obesity. Now even the Chinese are being impacted.
Grain fattens livestock, so why can't people figure out that it also fattens people?