FAO examines intersection of global food trade, nutrition

May 16, 2018

According to José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food’s regulatory landscape—comprising laws, standards, production protocols, subsidies, and disclosure protocols—should be redesigned “to protect healthy food and not food in general. Promoting healthy food is part of FAO’s mandate and I’d even call it an obligation.”
Graziano da Silva spoke at the Rome presentation of the “2018 Global Food Policy Report,” published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This year’s edition is focused on how to rein in growing discontent with globalization. “We need trade, as all countries, with no exception, need to exchange products to feed their population. The question is what kind of exchange,” said Graziano da Silva.
International trade increases food availability and can help increase food diversity, as when tropical fruits are sent to temperate-zone countries during the winter and cereals are sent the other direction. Over the past 40 years, the worldwide share of food calories crossing international borders rose from about 12% to more than 19%, according to the report.
Noting a proliferation of trading tensions regarding fresh produce in particular, Graziano da Silva suggested that it was archaic to “apply the same regulation on a product export from Brazil to Japan to something that is produced nearby to be sold in a farmer’s market in the same city.” As a result, processed foods full of extra saturated fats, salt, and sugar, are actually advantaged by current rules.
“To assure that future food systems will provide healthy food for all people, we'll need a big change,” said Graziano da Silva, noting that this would entail much work by standard-setting bodies such as Codex Alimentarius. “We’ll need to think big if we really want to make this change.”