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FAO chief urges world food-trade reboot

08 maggio 2018 | 19.00
LETTURA: 3 minuti

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The global food trade and regulation rulebook needs to rewritten to boost trade in healthy and nutritious items rather than foodstuffs that are merely cheap, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said on Tuesday.

Facilitating the export of commodities to feed the world was a postwar imperative whose relevance has changed as "commodities became a synonym of industrialised processed food" and the threat of obesity is looming as large as that of hunger, da Silva said.

"Now things are changing completely."

The popular farm-to-fork model of the food chain does not capture the complex realities of food systems, he said.

"Most of the important things we do is beyond the fork."

Food's regulatory landscape, comprising laws, standards, production protocols, subsidies and disclosure protcocols, should be redesigned "to protect healthy food and not food in general," Graziano da Silva said.

"Promoting healthy food is part of FAO's mandate and I'd even call it an obligation."

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 centres on how to rein in growing discontent with globalisation.

"We must go beyond production," Shenggen Fan, Director-General of IFPRI, noting that key challenges in the pledge to end hunger include nutrition, employment, migration and the open sharing of knowledge and data.

"We need trade, as all countries, with no exception, need to exchange products to feed their population. The question is what kind of exchange," Graziano da Silva said.

Noting a proliferation of trading tensions regarding fresh produce in particular, he 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, mass-produced processed foods, often 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," Graziano da Silva said, 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."

Trade has an essential role to play in pursuing the global goals of eradicating hunger, said IFPRI's Fan.

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, Fan noted.

Over the last 40 years, the worldwide share of food calories crossing international borders rose from about 12 percent to more than 19 percent, according to the report.

But trade in food is not just about calories and consumption. Fan cited the example of China's "virtual water" imports through food imports from Brazil, Canada and the United States, without which China's own aquifers and rivers might be depleted.

To make sure trade's positives outweigh potential negatives, it is crucial to create an environment that is inclusive, particularly for the world's smallholders, Fan said.

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