Ultra-processed foods lead to $7 trillion in hidden health, environment costs globally: Report

According to a recent report, unhealthy diets high in fats, sugars, and ultra-processed food have a hidden cost of $7 trillion per year for our health, the environment, and the environment.

According to the 2023 version of The State of Food and Agriculture released November 6, 2023, losses associated with such foods, which lead to obesity and noncommunicable disease, as well as lower labor productivity, are particularly high in countries of higher- and upper-middle income.

According to an analysis of 154 countries by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), our current agrifood system imposes hidden costs of at least $10 trillion per year. This is equivalent to almost 10% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In some countries, the consumption of highly processed food is increasing in rural and peri-urban areas. This trend can be attributed to urbanization and changes in women’s and men’s lifestyles and work profiles, as well as an increasing commute time.

The researchers also found that the spread of processed food across the rural-urban continuum is similar for both countries with high and low food budgets.

According to the report, in countries with high food budgets, the average share of processed foods and other food consumed away from home is 29 percent, while in countries with low budgets, it’s 25 percent. Rural areas were affected by the penetration of highly processed food, even if they are 1-2 hours away from a town or city.

In Africa, the consumption of highly processed food, such as processed foods and processed foods in general, has also increased rapidly.

Globally, the prevalence of moderate to severe food insecurity remained the same for the second consecutive year after rising sharply between 2019 and 2020. However, it was still well above the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors of the study noted that in 2022, 29.6 percent of the world’s population, or 2.4 billion people, would be moderately to severely food-insecure. Of these, 900 million people (11.3 percent of the total population) will be severely food insecure.

According to estimates, between 691 and 783 million people will face hunger in 2022. “If we take the middle range (roughly 735 million), then 122 more people will face hunger in 2022 compared to 2019, before the pandemic,” the researchers added.

In its 316-page report, the extensive study also predicted that 600 million people would be chronically malnourished by 2030. The report also projected that almost 600 million people would be chronically undernourished in 2030.

The analysis revealed that India had, among the nine countries in South Asia, the third highest prevalence (233.9 million) of undernutrition within the population after Afghanistan and Pakistan. India’s share of undernourished people has decreased from 21,4 percent in 2004-06 to 16,6 percent in 2020-22.

The future of our agrifood system depends on our willingness in the face of escalating challenges, such as food availability, accessibility, and affordability, climate crisis, biodiversity loss, economic slowdowns, and recessions, worsening of poverty, and other overlapping issues, to recognize all food producers.

Hidden costs in agrifood systems are the most damaging to low-income nations. They represent over a quarter of their GDP, compared to less than 12% in middle-income and less than 8% in high-income.

The report argued for a more detailed and regular analysis of hidden costs in the agrifood system by the government and private sector via true cost accounting. This would be followed by measures to mitigate the harm.

The report called on governments to implement true cost accounting in order to transform the agrifood system to combat climate change, poverty, inequality, and food security.

El Nino’s disruption of rainfall and temperature patterns may have a significant impact on agriculture, rural livelihoods, and food security. Early warnings like these clearly require action. FAO’s El Nino Anticipatory Action and Response Plan needs urgent funding in order to provide immediate support for a number of identified countries around the world. This is based on an analysis of historical trends and seasonal forecasts. It also takes into account the vulnerability of the populations and agricultural seasonality.

Kavitha Kuruganti is the founder of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture. The organization works to improve agricultural livelihoods. She says that one possible solution could be giving import preference to countries that don’t cultivate GMO varieties. She says that even shipments with non-GMO certifications should be tested.

The issue will only get worse as countries continue to develop GMOs. Australia has developed a GM banana variety that is awaiting approval for commercial cultivation. The list of GMOs is likely to grow.


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