Currently showing: Food security

03 Dec 13 19:14

I just attended the food security discussion hosted by Swiss Re at the Center for Global Dialog. I was astonished by the fact that food safety was not an issue. Of course it is of paramount importance to talk about fighting hunger and reducing poverty but food safety and quality should also be discussed in parallel. For example many Chinese people are currently very much concerned about accessing safe food. This led me to the question: who/which party/company/institutions decides on what we will eat today and tomorrow. Who are the power players and what drives them? How can we assure that in the future we provide enough safe food for humanity? Obviously copying and pasting our western life style and food production methods is not the recipe for a successful global food future. Any ideas of what we should do differently?

Category: Food security


Alicia Montoya - 3 Dec 2013, 11 p.m.

Well, food safety was indeed not even mentioned. Seems like we were far too caught up in trying to solve the food security riddle.

In terms of what was debated, I really liked Ian Johnson's idea of bringing in all of the food industry's externalities into food labeling, including water used to produce it, environmental impact, etc. However, I had to wonder:
- Can that even be done to any degree of accuracy?
- If those externalities are something we can put a number to, why aren't we already (and why aren't insurers covering them)?
- Even if food were to be labeled in such a way, would it help us make better choices given that most of us are either too poor to choose otherwise or too wealthy/jaded to care?

I believe people (citizens, companies, governments) won't take measures to address food security out of a sense that "it's the right thing to do" as Ian Johnson put it tonight. Rather, I think they'll do it when it costs them more not to.

And hey, that's crude but if we take the rational, self-interested Homo Economicus as a basis (and not some idealized, Homo Ethicus) and we RETHINK our models to fit around our true nature (driven by incentives), we will quickly find that it is in our self interest to address this and other global issues. Not because it's the right thing to do for rich and poor but because the cost of us not addressing it grows every day.

Ultimately, until we replace economic incentives to act as we do, it will be in corporations' interests to cut corners at our health's (and the planet's) sake. Their lobbies and sizable political donations will make sure that the FDAs and EPAs of this world overlook health and sustainability in favor of profits (at least until health and environmental costs outweigh profits). And the rich consumers will just… keep on wasting.

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 4 Dec 2013, 12:50 p.m.

I hadn't been able to attend the whole webcast - but yes, heard a lot about food security and that there's enough to feed the world, that it is a distribution problem.

As the for major players NOT interested in meaningful changes that would make their products more expensive - these are the ones > - the flow chart shows that a huge amount of everything we consume is controlled by just a few companies.

I also liked the Ian Johnson idea of building in true cost into products and showing amounts of water/carbon/etc used to produce the item ... I believe that is feasible nowadays... but would the Krafts, Nestles, Unilevers etc. go for it? Unlikely unless forced ... and how would the poorest cope with those higher costs ... we'd have to have a world body creating a balancing system so that poor countries could still get the food at low cost - but that that same cost would indeed have to be paid for by someone - maybe a union of nations ... we have plenty of such bodies by now, don't we? If Trade federations can impose tariffs and enforce this and that ... why not use their powers to enable such change?

Jennifer Rodney - 4 Dec 2013, 4:54 p.m.

Even if retailers are not willing to show the true cost of their goods, I'm sure there would be ways to get this information to consumers. Perhaps something similar to the app Buycott that let's you scan items before you buy to see if the producers are jerks in a way that is specifically offensive to you (users can choose to boycott based on various criteria - use of GMOs, use of questionable or slave labor, a company's stance on LGTB rights, etc.) -

I'd have to imagine it's possible to calculate a reasonable estimate of the true cost of any particular item, and technology like smart phone apps seems like a viable way to get this information to consumers.

Tobias Wassmann - 23 Aug 2014, 3:33 p.m.

Hi Reto,
On the subject of food safety and what the insurance industry can do about it:

In collaboration with Ping An, a Chinese retailer is offering insurance to its customers buying baby milk powder to restore trust after the scandals in the past. The policy indemnifies the buyer in case of a recall. I hope this helps fostering food safety and I in line with Alicia, I hope costs are rolled-over to the producers. How do you see this? Have you seen similar schemes elsewhere?

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