Written By: - Date published: 11:08 am, January 16th, 2014 - 10 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, cost of living, health, paula bennett, poverty, sustainability - Tags: food security, oxfam
Oxfam has published a report on food (in)security, ranking countries on measures of such food availability, prices, and nutritional content, as well as the stability of such characteristics. Overseas reports focus on how badly the UK (ranked 13), US (#21) and Japan (#21) have done, coming in 32rd behind a raft of European countries and Australia. NZ is ranked equal with Israel and just ahead of Brazil, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary and Canada.
While the NAct government is crowing about some positive general statistics about the state of the economy, looking in more detail shows that all is not well. Paula Bennett is claiming that statistics show people are spending less time than previously on benefits. But this does not account for people on zero incomes, or on very low incomes. The basis of Bennett’s claims has been disputed:
Ms Bennett says $4.4 billion of that reduction is because fewer people are going onto benefits and more are coming off them.
But an associate professor of economics at Auckland University, Susan St John, says lifetime liability is an estimated sum, and countless variables and assumptions have been made.
“We don’t know how to assess that four-point-four billion because it’s not an annual figure. It’s a figure that reflects lifetime cost, and it sounds like a very large figure but we haven’t got any context for it.”
The same goes for statistics about the general state of the economy, where things are claimed to be looking great for businesses.
In the Oxfam food security study, even within the top ranked countries, such as Netherlands at number 1, everything is not rosy. A noticeable proportion of people visit food banks. On Al Jazeera’s TV news this morning, they singled out the UK austerity policies as having a significant impact on a high level of food insecurity within a section of the population: many are going hungry, or scrabbling for food amongst other people’s rubbish.
Time Magazine reports, “And the best place in the world to eat is…”
Atop the list proudly sits the Netherlands. France and Switzerland tie for second place, but the United States doesn’t even make the top 20.
The report looks not only at food security and access to calories, but includes metrics like the cost of food, the nutritional quality of food, access to safe drinking water, and unhealthy eating habits.
This last metric—unhealthy eating measured via the prevalence of diabetes and obesity—is what undoes the U.S., which scores highly on other metrics like nutritional diversity and the cost of food. According to Oxfam’s data, the U.S. is tied with Egypt and Saudi Arabia for the title of second most obese country on the list, behind Kuwait.
The bigger picture that emerges out of the report is that both sides of the list—the best and worst places to eat on earth—are connected.
“The food system is global. Policies and practices in countries like the Netherlands and the United States do have an impact,” Oxfam Senior Researcher Deborah Hardoon told TIME. “We know that there is enough food in the world and yet still one in eight people go hungry today.”
The report blames lack of investment in small-scale agriculture in the developing world, unbalanced trade agreements, biofuel production that diverts crops from food to fuel, and the impact of climate change on food production.
The problem is not as simple as rich people in rich countries leaving too little for the poorest of the poor: The U.S. isn’t elbowing Chad away from the macaroni at the dinner table. In rich countries, like the U.S., obesity and diabetes tend to be disproportionately common among the poor. In effect, it is the poor, whether in the Netherlands, France, Ethiopia or Chad, who bear the brunt of dysfunction in the global food economy, Hardoon said.
“It demonstrates a broken system,” she said.
Using obesity as a measure of unhealthy food is questionable as some very healthy sports people get rated as being in the obese range. The diabetes rate is a better measure.
The data is available on an excel sheet on Oxfam America’s web site.
# 1 Netherlands
#21 US & Japan
#23 NZ & Israel
AFFORD TO EAT
Price Level of Food – Food Price Inflation Volatility
# 1 Netherlands: 6 – 7
#8 Australia: 19-3
#12 UK: 21-6
#21 US: 11-1
#21 Japan: 52-1
#23 NZ: 24-6
# 23 Israel: 24-7
Nutritional Diversity – Access to Safe Water
# 1 Netherlands: 3-0
#8 Australia: 5-0
#12 UK: 16-0
#21 US: 3-2
#21 Japan: 31-0
#23 NZ: 9-0
#23 Israel: 21-0
Diabetes – Obesity
# 1 Netherlands: 9-25
#8 Australia: 23-37
#12 UK: 18-37
#21 US: 36-46
#21 Japan: 16-6
#23 NZ: 32-39
#23 Israel: 26-36
NZ scores particularly badly on price level of food, and diabetes and obesity (healthy eating). It also is not doing well on the nutritional diversity (food quality) measure. Lack of access to nutritious and affordable food impacts on mental health, causing a high level of distress.
Most importantly the Oxfam report shows how the access to adequate food is not just a problem for individual countries. The production and distribution of adequate food supplies are part of a globally connected system. Australia’s ABC site reports:
Oxfam said the latest figures show 840 million people go hungry every day, despite there being enough food for the hungry.
It called for changes in the way food is produced and distributed around the world.
The causes of hunger, it added, include a lack of investment in infrastructure in developing nations and in small-scale agriculture, security, prohibitive trading agreements, biofuel targets that divert crops from food to fuel and the impact of climate change.