Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency, says legislators are key to tackling the problem of food insecurity.
It is essential that parliaments around the world act without delay to adapt and improve legal, political and institutional frameworks to end hunger and ensure nutritious and healthy diets for all, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said on Monday.
“You can guarantee that food and nutrition security is at the top of the political and legislative agenda,” Graziano da Silva stressed before nearly 200 parliamentarians gathered at the Global Parliamentary Summit against Hunger and Malnutrition taking place in Madrid. “Being responsible for passing laws and reviewing budgets, you can play a key role in promoting food security and improving nutrition in you respective countries,” he added.
“This summit represents an opportunity to face this truly global challenge from a multilateral perspective, the only effective prism from which to identify solutions and put in place the measures and the necessary legislation in your respective countries to achieve the Zero Hunger goal by 2030,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said. “It is also an opportunity to place the Sustainable Development Goals at the centre of all public policies and priorities, to place this debate in a central position and to respond to the needs of society taking as reference the universal values that unite us all,” he added.
When world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda three years ago they defined the goal of Zero Hunger (the eradication of hunger and all forms of malnutrition) as an essential condition for a fairer and more peaceful world.
“Paradoxically, hunger has only grown since then,” Graziano da Silva emphasized.
According to FAO’s latest figures, 821 million people – 11 percent of the world’s population – go hungry every day. Simultaneously, other forms of malnutrition have also increased and there are already 2 billion overweight adults, of whom 672 are obese.
“If we do not find concrete ways to stop this constant increase, the number of obese people will soon be as high as the number of people who are hungry,” said the Director General.
“We need to put in place food systems that provide healthy and nutritious food that is accessible to all,” he added, noting that obesity should be treated as a public issue and not exclusively as an individual’s problem.
Obesity happens in both developed and developing countries, even where there is hunger and is phenomenon that Graziano da Silva referred to as the “globalization of obesity”. He noted that “8 of the 20 countries in which obesity is increasing fastest are in Africa.”
The main reason behind this alarming increase, he explained, is that current food systems are not providing healthy diets and that, around the world, people increasingly consume highly processed industrial food, with few nutrients and high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and chemical additives. Another driver is this type of food is cheaper and easier to prepare than fresh food, especially in urban areas.
“Unfortunately, processed food is also more convenient for international trade. This greatly affects the populations of countries that import most of their food, such as the islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean,” Graziano da Silva explained. “There are examples of countries like Mexico and Vietnam, which registered an increase in the consumption of unhealthy imported foods and beverages under free trade agreements,” he added.
Because States are responsible for the welfare of their citizens, which includes the right to adequate food, they must empower, encourage and educate people to adopt healthy diets and pass specific legislation to improve nutrition, said Graziano da Silva.
The FAO Director-General stressed that there are “excellent recent examples” of parliamentary action for food security and nutrition. Canada, for example, has banned the use of some types of artificial fats in food production and Argentina is on the same path. Chile also passed a law to ensure more comprehensive and comprehensible labelling for the consumer, especially for children.
Graziano da Silva presented “The Nutrition Challenge” publication, in which FAO and the World Health Organization set out a series of measures that parliamentarians can take to transform food systems, from production to final consumption.
It is essential, for example, to promote policies to diversify production and facilitate the consumption of fresh food locally produced by family farming. It is also important to introduce nutrition education in academic programs and to regulate advertising aimed at children.
“Despite the recent setbacks, a world without hunger and malnutrition is still within reach, but we must act quickly and decisively. It is our common responsibility to promote the political will that will allows us to guarantee that everyone can feed themselves with dignity. Zero Hunger by 2030 is still possible if we all work together,” Graziano da Silva concluded.
The Global Parliamentary Summit against Hunger and Malnutrition is a joint initiative of the Spanish Parliament, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Latin America and the Caribbean Parliamentary Front against Hunger.
There are currently almost 40 alliances and parliamentary fronts against hunger and malnutrition throughout the world, including four international and 34 national with 19 of those in Latin America and the Caribbean.