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Three interconnected global pandemics threaten humanity

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Obesity, undernourishment and climate change are three global pandemics that threaten humanity. Although the three appear to be unconnected, a new report has now stated that these three dangers are intimately linked and it is the agri-food industry and political leaders that are to blame.  

Researchers have called it a “global-syndemic”. The three biggest threats that humanity is confronted with in today’s world: obesity, undernourishment and climate change, initially appear to be separate issues.  However, according to a report published in The Lancet, these three pandemics are one massive danger and are intrinsically connected.  Researchers hold “Big Food”  industries responsible for this threat to humanity.

Over the last 20 years, obesity, undernutrition and climate change have been considered separately and the slowness of policy responses is unacceptable,” the report states. “The food industry is not only responsible for the obesity pandemic and undernutrition, but it also generates 25% to 30% of greenhouse gas emissionswhich are responsible for global warming. “Bringing together the three pandemics allows us to consider common solutions, with the aim of breaking decades of political inertia.”

The influence of Big Food

Efforts have been started to try and contain these three problems.  Several solutions have been suggested to try and combat climate change.  Some efforts have also been put in place to try and feed the most malnourished and prevention campaigns are established to warn people about the danger of unhealthy eating.  Regardless, these problems of malnutrition, obesity and climate change still exist and, if anything, seem to be getting worse rather than better.  Although there is also a lack of demand from the general public for changes to be made, political leadership is  largely to blame for this passive attitude, according to researchers.  They believe, political leaders are under the influence of Big Food players who oppose and lobby any change which tries to call into question their acquired commercial interests.

The authors of the report believe that multinational food industries should be supervised in the same way as tobacco companies. “The similarities with Big Tobacco lie in the damage they induce and the behaviours of the corporations that profit from them,” notes William Dietz from George Washington University (United States) and co-author of the study.  One of the solutions that the researchers came up with would be to set up a global treaty limiting the power and influence of the agri-food industry.  In other words, try and combat the lobbying efforts of this industry so as to limit their influence on political affairs.

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Intensive livestock farming in the United States. Credits : Greenpeace

Changes are necessary

These changes should happen now.  An editorial comment from The Lancet states that “At current trajectories of economic development, population growth, and food provision, it is estimated that by 2050 overall demand for food and animal-based food will increase by 50 percent and 70 percent, respectively, with further destabilising effects of deforestation, species extinction, and climate change acceleration,”

Another study published by the same journal a few days ago predicts a similar somber future. A British team of researchers led by Tim Lang from the University of London, noted that a change in global diet was needed. According to their study, the only real solution to future food problems is if we produce and eat half as much sugar and red meat, and twice as much vegetables, fruits and nuts.


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