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Captured by corporations, actions proposed by the Food Systems Summit are insufficient

As they were presented, Action Tacks generate insecurity and low expectations for civil society, which is mobilized for actions for the actual improvement of food systems

26 de July de 2021

Even amidst the global inequality of access to Covid-19 vaccination, the Food Systems Summit, organized by the United Nations, is confirmed to start on July 26, with presential and online participation. This will be a step prior to the main event, which will be held in September.

With a non-inclusive process of organization, agenda-building and a restricted profile of scientists, the forum will be challenged by organizations and people who are really part of the Food Systems – people who produce, transport, market and consume food.

As Idec (Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection) has already pointed out, the Food Systems Summit is being organized in order to make room for the food industry and agribusiness, which have no interest in changing the Food Systems to fight climate change, hunger and obesity.

Find out seven reasons why Idec does not formally participate in the UN Food Systems Summit

The summit’s discussions and agreements will be divided into five Action Tacks. However, in this scenario of strong corporate influence at the event – with consequences for the future of Food Systems and the planet – each front becomes an opening for the advance of the industry agenda.

As they stand, the Action Tracks generate uncertainty and low expectations for civil society. Idec listed them and comments one by one:

Action Track 1 – Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all

In Brazil, at the end of 2020 more than 55% of Brazilian households faced some level of food insecurity. In the same period, the country was the world second leader in agricultural commodities exports.

This means that large-scale industrial food production does not effectively respond to people’s needs. But it is in this direction that the discussions at the Food Systems Summit tend to go, prioritizing an economic approach over a social one, and increasing production rather than improving the quality of food production.

Thus, access to healthy food goes against what industry and agribusiness want, since this logic would dismantle the current structures of corporate Food Systems. This is an Action Track that may have results below expectations, considering the influence of large corporations on the event. Therefore, we see the maintenance of the conventional agribusiness model, which generates inequalities and socio-environmental impacts, is expected.

Action Track 2 – Shift to sustainable consumption patterns

The food industry corporations that are influencing the summit organization spend countless resources to encourage ultra-processed-based food.

In Brazil, Idec promotes the Food Guide for the Brazilian Population, published by the Ministry of Health and supported by the Institute. The material brings necessary points for the transition of Food Systems, such as valuing local production, the consumption of seasonal products, that is, from the period, and taking care of your health through food. However, the material was attacked by the Ministry of Agriculture, which asked for a revision of the guide. The paste is historically linked to agribusiness and the food processing industry.

Ultra-processed products mimic the taste and color of food, but they are not real food. That’s why they usually receive nutrient additives and sell the idea of being fortified, while, in fact, they’re just an industrial formula. There is plenty of robust evidence that consumption of processed foods is linked to increased obesity, chronic noncommunicable diseases, cancer and even depression.

A document published by the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health from the University of São Paulo (Nupens/USP) and the Josué de Castro Chair brings together and synthesizes more than 180 scientific evidence on the impact of ultra-processed products on human health and the planet and possible solutions to transform current global food systems.

The health risks of ultra-processed products are multiple. Idec recently published a study that detects the presence of pesticides in ultra-processed products. All pesticides found are also present in Brazilian crops, such as glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world.

How is it possible to inspire and motivate people to adopt healthier consumption options if industry and agribusiness profit from production that is not good for the population’s health?

Consumption is also closely related to food waste. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), around 17% of all food in the world is wasted. And food dispensed and not consumed, mainly due to large-scale transport losses, represents between 8 and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the loss of food production occurs in highly impactful distribution chains, as in the case of the flow of grain through the Brazilian highway network. These are challenges engendered in the conventional production model, which needs to change to more sustainable practices, such as the strengthening of local and diversified production, instead of the monoculture of commodities.

Action Track 3 – Boost nature-positive production

The activities in the agriculture sector are the ones that have the greatest impact and are the most impacted by climate change. Agribusiness continues to break export records with production based on deforestation of new areas, commodity monoculture and the intensive use of pesticides, which contaminate watercourses and the soil, in addition to impacting biodiversity and people’s health.

This is the conventional model that predominates in crops in Brazil and other large producing countries: destroy to generate wealth. On the other hand, this logic marks the drop in productivity of the sector itself, as the effects of climate change will affect its crops, resulting in a loss of productivity.

The UN Food Systems Summit fails to propose this vision for agribusiness. On the contrary, Agnes Kalibata was appointed to head the event. She is president of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and, therefore, linked to conventional and unhealthy models. The tendency is that these models are not only maintained, but promoted at the event as a solution.

The Summit, in all its previous programming, does not mention agroecological or agroforestry practices at least once. These initiatives, proven effective for sustainable management and production of healthy and organic food, are a viable alternative to conventional agribusiness and urgently need incentives from governments.

Currently, 72 million hectares of pastures are in an acute state of degradation in Brazil. This is a great opportunity for the agricultural sector to work the transition to more sustainable models, recovering destroyed areas instead of deforesting even more forest. According to the ClimaInfo Institute, this measure could mean savings of R$9.5 billion to producers. Large corporations are slow to understand that preservation is generating wealth.

Action Track 4 – Advance equitable livelihoods

We don’t want only to eat. In order to achieve fairer ways of life that benefit everyone and not just a part of the actors that make up the Food Systems, a transition of models and, above all, paradigms is needed.

Fairer and more equal livelihoods must include all those who are part of the Food Systems. If we only talk about consumption, we can include everyone on the planet in that list. But the Food Systems are unbalanced, with the balance tipping towards those who generate the most profit. On the other side of that scale are the 7.8 billion people with the right to eat healthily.

When addressing the issue of production, in addition to what has already been said in relation to other lines of action, it is worth highlighting the working conditions in the field. While mega corps profit from record harvests, workers are exploited, and their rights violated. In Brazil, this is still a sad reality in the 21st century.

More egalitarian ways of life, which ensure the rights and safety of workers, are also consequences of boosting local Food Systems, that is, chains that bring the production and distribution of food consumption closer, while respecting the traditionalities of indigenous and traditional peoples, diversifying food options and seasonality.

Action Track 5 – Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress

In the reality in which we live, Food Systems are under strong threat from climate change. Effects of rising global temperature will cause loss of agricultural productivity, reaching about 18% of world GDP. Thinking of ways to increase resilience in this context is a hard task.

As the Summit adopts this approach, the real discussion would be to address the effective transition to healthy and sustainable Food Systems. There is no way to stop the impacts of shocks and natural stresses on food productivity, unless we rethink this self-destructive logic, which, above all, contributes to the hunger of 690 million people in the world in 2019.

Idec understands that the UN Food Systems Summit has many limitations to enable a transition from healthy and sustainable models. Although the Action Tracks raise important points of debate, the corporate capture identified at the event should not only stop the discussions, but propose new setbacks for Food Systems, increasing inequality, hunger, obesity and contributing to climate change.

In order to give a voice to the actors who are part of Food Systems, but who were left out of this space taken by corporatism, civil society promotes the People’s Countermobilization to transform corporate food systems between the 25th and 27th of July. Last week, there was a stage dedicated to Latin America between the 22nd and 23rd. They are spaces of resistance, to demand and propose an agenda for the transition to sustainable and healthy Food Systems.

Access the People’s Countermobilizationwebsite here with the agenda and here to watch the event broadcasts.

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