Agenda for Action
Current methods of food production and consumption are imposing a severe burden on the environment and the constituent natural resources. New production and processing methods driven by biotechnology (genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones and other growth promoters) affect food safety. Are alternative more sustainable patterns of food production and consumption feasible? The paper examines some consumer initiatives in Asia and in the UK to examine how the consumer as a ‘market force’ can proactively influence the food industry, thereby making sustainable practices the norm rather than the exception. It also looks at the significance of empowering women, as consumers, with awareness and education on food safety, nutrition and its dependence on sustainable practices to exert a ‘pull’ on the market. Finally the paper discusses a multi-pronged approach involving, besides consumer pressure, policy changes, regulatory efforts and economic instruments to steer food production and consumption in a more sustainable direction. RADHA GOPALAN
orld politics and governance is increasingly being challenged by one major issue, the capacity to provide safe and adequate food to its population – food security. A number of international development institutions and organisations are presently engaged in a debate on global food prospects for the next 10-15 years which is fast being relegated to a numbers game. Food supply and demand projections are being made with arguments being offered about food surpluses and falling prices on one side and food scarcity and hunger on the other. Such projections and contrasting arguments have tremendous implications on the future survival of this planet. A requirement of ensuring food security is to first understand the food needs, and then ensuring that, in answering these needs, the integrity of natural ecosystems is not compromised so that food can be made available in a safe and sustained manner. Any policy or strategy for food production and consumption must recognise these issues. Given the overexploitation of natural resources, the highly degraded state of the environment and the quality of life today, it is imperative that any discussion on food and nutrition must attempt to answer some critical questions such as: What are the needs that we want food to answer? What are the changes that Economic and Political Weekly
need to be made in present day patterns of food production and consumption to answer those needs? How do we make these changes? The present paper attempts to examine issues arising from these questions and discusses the feasibility of making food production and consumption more sustainable. A significant aspect of this discussion is the role of women in the process. Women play a major role in the food production and consumption cycle. The paper thus also looks at the critical role that women can play in steering food production and consumption in a sustainable direction. Any discussion on production and consumption of food must, at the outset, examine the definition and connotation of food. The pattern of production and consumption of food would have to ensure that need according to this definition is fulfilled. Food is typically defined and evaluated today in terms of its quality (appearance, nutritional composition, texture) and has been reduced to a set of numbers in terms of calories and the recommended daily allowance of various constituents. The result of such a definition is evident in the way food is described in the production and consumption process as ‘low calorie’ ‘fat free’ ‘100 per cent natural’, etc. The holistic character of food
in terms of its ability to provide sustenance, physical and mental well-being has thus been reduced to a set of faddist terms. Boundaries of food definition must extend beyond the description of food quality. Its definition must encompass how food is produced and...