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The politics of food: Oxfam report

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: ,

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.

Some comparisons:

OVERALL RANKING

# 1 Netherlands

#8 Australia

#12 UK

#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

FOOD QUALITY

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

UNHEALTHY EATING

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.

food affordability

10 comments on “The politics of food: Oxfam report ”

  1. johnm 1

    The Politics of food indeed!
    The U$k continues down the plug hole of neoliberal madness abusing their most vulnerable:
    “Poverty is increasing, homelessness is increasing, over 500,000 use Food banks regularly. Some are even asking the foodbanks to leave food that has to be cooked out of their parcel, as they cannot afford to use the fuel it would take to cook it.
    These figures are the tip of the iceberg and do not cover the ones the authorities don’t get to see: those getting help from their pensioner parents, those who turn to shoplifting, etc. (also on the increase). ”

    “‘Absolute poverty’ of Victorian age has returned to the UK, says Labour MP ”

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/absolute-poverty-of-victorian-age-has-returned-to-the-uk-says-labour-mp-9057327.html

    “As an admirer of Victorian values, Mrs Thatcher often spoke in glowing terms of voluntarism and its links with enterprise and liberty. In an important speech to the Zurich Economic Society while in opposition in 1977, she told her audience that “the Victorian era — the heyday of free enterprise in Britain — was also the era of the rise of selflessness and benefaction”.” And as noted the Victorian era she respected so much was the era of absolute poverty and workhouses and transportation for life for stealing a loaf of bread! The current Tory scum regime are taking her legacy to the extreme.

    Relevance to NZ? We know Pullya Benefit is assiduously taking points from Pommy social reformers as noted by Xtasy. Prisoners of the Motherland will no longer be able to escape to Australia which has closed its borders to economic refugees.

    • johnm 1.1

      “As long as states apply all their resources to their vain and violent schemes of expansion, thus incessantly obstructing the slow and laborious efforts of their citizens to cultivate their minds, and even deprive them of all support in these efforts, no progress in this direction can be expected. For a long internal process of careful work on the part of each commonwealth is necessary for the education of its citizens. But all good enterprises which are not grafted on to a morally good attitude of mind are nothing but illusion and outwardly glittering misery.”
      — Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History; Seventh Proposition; trans. Allen Wood

  2. tracey 2

    s is why greens and labour and anyone else has to keep repeating, good news for who?

    the 50% of hard working kiwis earning less than $30,000 per year?

  3. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 3

    Thanks for the information, Karol

    Another angle of scarcity of food: financial speculation on food by the very wealthiest of our world, so they can ‘make money on their money:

    http://science.time.com/2012/12/17/betting-on-hunger-is-financial-speculation-to-blame-for-high-food-prices/

    There is a debate as to how much this speculation really affects prices – I guess that will only be concluded once we have gotten rid of this system.

    http://www.neurope.eu/article/financial-speculation-raises-global-food-prices

    Laissez-faire capitalism has to go – it is criminal what is going on.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Laissez-faire capitalism has to go – it is criminal what is going on.

      QFT

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        it’s no longer laissez faire capitalism – it’s highly interventionist, crony klepto-capitalism.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1

          Are you sure there’s a difference?

          Over the last few decades in the rise of laissez faire capitalism we’ve seen ever more cronyism. It seems to me that the two go hand in hand. The government deregulates while giving their preferred recipients more and more taxpayer money through government contracts (the myth of the private sector always being better) and corporate welfare (we need to save these jobs).

          • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 3.1.1.1.1

            +1 Draco

            Dropping regulations simply allows the lowest common denominator in ethical standards to gain the upper hand. Corruption flourishes as a consequence.

  4. Growing up in NZ many years ago, Coke and the likes was a treat, now because of “pricing”, it is an everyday occurrence. Also the introduction of the “2 minute noodles”, something virtually unheard of 20 odd years ago, both these are high energy, low nutrition foods, yet they are often staples in so many families. How did we get so f**ked?

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      A long road to serfdom for the bottom 50%, the next 30% barely holding their own, and the top 20% moving ahead.

      With the top 1% to 2% overall making out like absolute bandits.

      In other words, a plutocracy, transforming into a kleptocracy, with more than a hint of neo-feudal preparation creeping in.

      tl:dr we have forgotten to be our brothers’ keeper.

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