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Big Bad Food & Climate Change. How we're addicted to junk

Big Bad Food & Climate Change. How we're addicted to junk

Big business has been called out for pushing junk food the way tobacco companies once pushed cigarettes & they are not happy.

Big food is waving it's very large hairy arms after calls to reduce their power. A report published in the Lancet Medical Journal has called (among other things) for governments to unite to fight big food in the same way they once fought big tobacco. Asking for a global treaty to limit the influence of big food in the same way the UN agreement did for tobacco 15 years ago. The report also demanded taxes on red meat, sugar and other unhealthy food to reduce consumption and for the tax money to be collected and used to subsidise produce and exercise.

BIG FOOD LABELLED THE EXTENSIVE REPORT BY 43 ACADEMICS FROM 14 COUNTRIES AND 40 INSTITUTIONS AS DEEPLY IRRESPONSIBLE AND PROMOTING NANNY STATE AUTHORITARIANISM. 

THEY SEEM TO HAVE LEFT OFF ATTACKING THE EVIDENCE, PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY COULD SEE THE EXTENT OF IT IN THE MIRROR, SO IT WASN'T THAT THEY HAD AN ISSUE WITH THE FACTS SO MUCH AS WHAT IS TO BE DONE ABOUT IT. 

You can just hear the military grade strategising at the PR office as the report landed. The problem of course is that big food can strategise all they like. Most of the world is fat, half of the rest is undernourished and we have created a massive climate change problem, and if nothing is done to get hairy paws out of the cookie jar and break the inertia, we are in all kinds of bother.


We are in a 'sydnemic' - a synergy of epidemics

With more than half of the planet overweight, levels of heart disease, diabetes and cancer are soaring as we literally eat ourselves faster than the planet can replenish.

WE FIND OURSELVES AT THE INTERSECTION (ACCORDING TO LANCET) OF THREE PANDEMICS - OBESITY, UNDERNUTRITION, AND CLIMATE CHANGE. TOGETHER REPRESENTING A GLOBAL SYNDEMIC THAT AFFECTS MOST PEOPLE IN EVERY COUNTRY AND REGION WORLDWIDE.

THE THREE CONSTITUTE A SYNDEMIC, OR SYNERGY OF EPIDEMICS, BECAUSE THEY CO-OCCUR IN TIME AND PLACE, INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER TO PRODUCE COMPLEX SEQUELAE, AND SHARE COMMON UNDERLYING SOCIETAL DRIVERS. 


Undernutrition & obesity are actually driven by the same thing. Someone's consumption. Of stuff.

The report points out that malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition, obesity, and other dietary risks for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), is by far the biggest cause (19%) of ill-health and premature death globally.

In the near future, the health impacts of climate change will significantly exacerbate this, This is because high health burden food systems not only drive the obesity and undernutrition pandemics, but also generate 25-30% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and cattle production accounts for over half of those. Car-dominated transportation systems support sedentary lifestyles and generate between 14-25% of GHGs. Underpinning all of these are weak political governance systems, the unchallenged economic pursuit of GDP growth, and the powerful commercial  engineering of overconsumption.  


Climate change

It turns out that the hand that is literally fattening us is also the one that will ultimately flatten us too. And the only comfort we can take from that is that the food companies and governments who drove it will finally all be in the same position. If they don't die of cancer, diabetes or heart disease first, which is starting to sound like a better alternative to what things might look like around here in 50 years. 

Problem: The power of the food and drink industry

"The food and drink industry has enormous power and the money to exert pressure on governments", said Tim Lobstein of the World Obesity Federation, one of the commissioners. In the US Congress, he pointed out, there are 294 lobbyists from food and drink companies, more than from either the tobacco or alcohol industries.

“Of that, two-thirds are former Congress staff, so they know what they are doing. That level of lobbying is devoted to preserving the status quo. It is a major barrier to change and must be challenged,” he said.

In the US and Australia, food industry pressure succeeded in keeping sustainability out of national dietary guidelines, the commission said.

Problem: Economic growth paralyses government action

Given the enormous influence of big food in the corridors of power, it's not surprising that the report held no punches on the inertia of government. "The policy responses from national governments to obesity, undernutrition and climate change as separate problems have been slow and inadequate. This policy inertia stems from the reluctance of political decision makers to implement effective policies, powerful opposition by vested commercial interests, and insufficient demand for change by the public and civil society. Undernutrition is declining too slowly to meet global targets, no country has reversed its obesity epidemic, and comprehensive policy responses to the threat of climate change have barely begun."

Recommendations from the commission's report

This is an important map and the one that has big food hopping. Try not to glaze over because this map clearly shows the complexity and simplicity of both the problem and solution and it is well worth understanding.

In simple terms, the game is up

Surely the game is up. We are all now literally feeling, seeing and hearing the impact of climate change. The energy for change is palpable and as more governments begin to act to call big business to account, more will follow. 

Industry accountability for plastic pollution

One simple example of the macro impacts of government actually taking action (beyond banning plastic bags) is making the industry pay for to clean up its own plastic pollution. According to Ocean Conservancy, 70% of the 10 most common types of plastic waste in seas is from food and drink.

Late in 2018, the UK government announced a plan to hold those responsible for the waste, legally obliged to pay for its disposal, including higher fees if their products are difficult to reuse or recycle.

It's a clever plan as it is set to come into force in 2023 and while it is subject to consultation this year, it will encourage investment in more sustainable design ahead of the impost, which will also raise crucial funds to support local recycling efforts.


‚ÄčImage: Unsplash | Morgan Aragon  Infographic: Lancet
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