53 Reclaiming healthy and sustainable diets as a public good

Public policies and investments on nutrition as critical instruments to guarantee human rights and redress the livelihoods, environmental, health and fiscal implications of food systems

Organizers

  • Civil Society Mechanism (CSM)
  • International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)

Abstract

The side event will analyse the health, environmental, livelihoods and fiscal implications of different food systems and explore how to reclaim healthy and sustainable diets as a fundamental public good. The event would then assess which public policies and investments to promote healthy and sustainable diets could offer a space of convergence for redressing the multiple “externalities” of food systems and promote  closer relations between food consumers and producers, thereby contributing to the realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition. The event will also offer an opportunity to assess and reflect on the forthcoming HLPE Report on Food Systems and Nutrition and explore possible pathways for the policy convergence process on nutrition.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Stefano Prato, Society for International Development, Technical Facilitator of the Nutrition Working Group of the Civil Society Mechanism
  • Marité Alvarez, World Alliance for Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP), Member of the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society Mechanism
  • Nicholas Jacobs and Molly Anderson, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)
  • Amb. Pierfrancesco Sacco, Permanent Representative of Italy to FAO, IFAD and WFP
  • Lorena Rodríguez, Head of Food and Nutrition Department, Ministry of Health of Chile
  • Isabel Álvarez, Urgenci Global Network, Member of the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society Mechanism

The side event explored how public policies and investments on nutrition could offer critical instruments to guarantee human rights and redress the livelihoods, environmental, health and fiscal implications of food systems. The starting point of the discussion was the multiple impacts that unhealthy and unsustainable food habits increasingly have at human, societal, political and environmental levels.

The side event opened with an opening presentation by Molly Anderson and Nick Jacobs on the key findings of IPES-Food’s October 2017 report, Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus:

  1. Industrial food systems are making people sick and leading to massive public health costs. These impacts occur through five key channels: i) Occupational hazards (e.g. pesticide poisoning); ii) Environmental contamination (e.g. nitrate pollution, EDC exposure); iii) Contaminated, unsafe and altered foods (e.g. food-borne disease); iv) Unhealthy dietary patterns (e.g. obesity-related NCDs); and v) food insecurity.
  2. These harmful practices persist because of systemic blind spots in the evidence base due to power differentials; disconnection of health risks from one another and from the underlying environmental and socio-economic conditions for health — conditions that are undermined by food systems activities; isolation of nutrition from agricultural practices, climate change and poverty; and privatization of research combined with shrinking public investment, which favor industry-aligned conclusions and solutions.
  3. Better health outcomes for the public are likely to ensue from food systems approaches which consider all activities, restoration of research integrity and research as a public good, promoting alternative practices and documenting their benefits (e.g. agroecology), adopting the precautionary principle in policy, and creating integrated food policy through participatory governance.

The introduction by IPES Food was complemented by a very valuable presentation of the Chilean experience in implementing healthy food environments, aimed at finding the delicate balance between individual responsibilities and choices and structural systemic determinants.

Following the initial presentations by IPES Food and the Chilean experience, participants engaged in lively debate on several critical issues. Many noted with concern that re-embedding nutrition with food is shifting the centre of gravity away from production toward consumption and diets. While consumers’ choices are important as feeding oneself is a fundamental act of sovereignty, consumers are too often identified as citizens with purchasing powers rather than rights-holders, shifting attention away from public policies in favour of market-driven consumer choices in the context of food environments that are increasingly manipulated by aggressive marketing of ultra-processed food.

Against this scenario, many highlighted the essential need to restore the centrality of public policies and reclaim the promotion of healthy and sustainable diets, with a well-designed balance between production and consumption, as fundamental public goods. In this context, the significant political economies that support the industrial production model were identified as a very challenging obstacle to the reclaiming of public policies, recognizing that is hard, if not impossible, to find a peaceful cohabitation between opposing production models.

Key outcomes/take away messages

Unhealthy and unsustainable diets have profound social, economic, environmental and political consequences on the collective and generate normative and fiscal challenges to the State precisely when its normative and fiscal space is constrained by systemic structural obstacles. Hence the need to reclaim healthy and sustainable diets as a fundamental public good, reaffirming that food is the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people’s self-determination and striking a delicate balance between citizens’ choices and rights and production and commercialization systems that can heal our broken social and ecological relations.

Side Event - 53 - Reclaiming healthy and sustainable diets as a public good