FACT SHEET Food Security, Trade, and Health In 2008, food riots around the world prompted questions about global food security. While many were quick to discuss economic linkages to global food production and pricing, others pointed out the obvious: lack of food security has serious consequences for global health. Experts agree that chronic food insecurity requires a long-term, integrated approach that can address the continued nutritional needs of those most vulnerable.
What is Food Security? Food security is a crosscutting issue with implications for health, agriculture, trade and the environment. There have been more than 200 different definitions of food security published throughout the years.1 Needless to say, this has made the process of measuring food security very challenging. UN agencies refer to the World Food Summit of 1996 when attempting to define food security. The summit declared that â€œfood security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.â€? Thus, development experts concluded that food security encompasses the availability, access, stability, and use of food.2 Major Trade Determinants of Food Security There are four major trade related determinants of food insecurity including: production based entitlements (demand and supply factors), trade based entitlements (tariffs, quotas, etc.), labor-based entitlements (wages and job availability), and transfer-based entitlements.3 While all of these determinants impact the supply of food in a nation, all four are differently affected by domestic and international trade. Multilateral trade negotiations such as the introduction of a tariff, quota, or subsidy, have direct repercussions on the entitlements that lead to food security, such as changes in prices that consumers pay and producers receive. Food Security and the Millennium Development Goals MDG 1 specifically aims to decrease the number of people suffering from hunger by half. Despite this goal, it is estimated that the number of people lacking access to adequate amounts of food actually increased to 1.02 billion in 2009.4 Though experts admit that this increase is partly due to the recent economic crisis, they also point to a decade-long trend.5
Critics and Consequences Critics argue that trade liberalization related to various WTO agreements is to blame for the food security crisis in many countries. WHO also cites other causes, including a lack of agricultural sector investment, environmental degradation, increasing energy prices, use of food crops for biofuel production, and trade-distorting subsidies. Regardless of the cause, the health consequences are serious. Unable to access healthy and safe foods, the poor will likely experience a surge in communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as an increase in child and maternal mortality and morbidity. People with medical conditions will be disproportionately affected, as they will have less money to spend on health services because of higher food bills. Young infants will also be affected, as their growth and development will be challenged by the lack of essential nutrients. Other micronutrient deficiency conditions, such as anemia, will also impact women and children.6 Alleviating World Hunger The 2009 G8 summit promised US$20 billion over three years for investment in agriculture. Yet the FAO states that US$44 billion per year is needed in order to address world hunger.7 The WHO and other health organizations have emphasized the need for nutritional interventions and the need for better data to precisely determine how many people in the world are hungry. It also calls for an assessment of the effect of the food crisis on nutrition, health and poverty, with a focus on the most vulnerable groups.8 FAO continues to implement its ‘twin-track approach’ for fighting hunger, which combines sustainable agricultural development with targeted programs for enhancing direct access to food via nutritional interventions.9 Further Reading FAO Hunger Site: http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/ Action-aid scorecard: Who’s Really Fighting Hunger?: http://www.actionaid.org/ Trade Reforms and Food Security. FAO Report 2003: www.fao.org Health impacts of the global food security crisis: http://www.who.int/food_crisis/en/
References 1 Maxwell S, Smith M. Household food security; a conceptual review. In: Maxwell & T.R. Frankenberger, edi tor. Household Food Security: Concepts, Indicators, Measurements: A Technical Review. New York and Rome,: UNICEF, IFAD 1992. 2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Food Security. FAO Policy Brief 2006; Available from: ftp://ftp.fao.org/es/ESA/policybriefs/pb_02.pdf. 3 Stevens C, Greenhill R, Kennan J, Devereux S. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security. London: Department for International Development. Available from: www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publica tions/agriculture-food-security.pdf 4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Hunger. 2010; Available from: www.fao.org/hun ger/en/ 5 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Food Programme. The state of food secu rity 2009: Economic crisis impacts and lessons learned. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Food Programme; 2009. 6 World Health Organization. Health impacts of the global food security crisis. 2010; Available from: www. who.int/food_crisis/en/ 7 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Renewed commitment to end hunger. 2009; Available from: www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/37421/icode/ 8 World Health Organization. Health impacts of the global food security crisis. 2010; Available from: www. who.int/food_crisis/en/ 9 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Food Security. FAO Policy Brief 2006; Available from: ftp://ftp.fao.org/es/ESA/policybriefs/pb_02.pdf. 1111 19th Street NW Suite 1120