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Expert Panel Identifies Unacceptable Toll of Food and Farming Systems on Human Health

The UN Committee on World Food Security in Rome has today launched a new report examining the impact of chemical intensive, industrial food system on human health. GEORGINA DOWNS responds.

A major new report on the damage to human health from existing industrial and chemical-intensive conventional food and farming systems was launched today by the UN Committee on World Food Security in Rome.

The report, entitled Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems, is authored by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) - an independent panel of food system experts - and was commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

Exposure to pesticides

It outlines the unacceptable harm caused by our current food systems, exposes just some of the astronomical health costs externalized by the current food system and finds an urgent and "overwhelming case for action".

The report states: "The health impacts generated by food systems are severe, widespread, and closely linked to industrial food and farming practices," adding, "an urgent case for reforming food and farming systems can be made on the grounds of protecting human health." 

The report points out that the complexity of health impacts in food systems is real and challenging, but "cannot be an excuse for inaction," and that a truly healthy food system will take as its starting point a preventative, precautionary approach, triggering a shift from a system that results in harm to a system that is based on prevention and health promotion.

The report recognises that exposure to pesticides, including Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)- chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems and which are ubiquitous in food systems - has been clearly linked to a number of chronic long-term health effects including neurotoxic impacts, developmental impacts, as well as increased rates of cancers. 

The report points out that exposure to such harmful chemicals in existing food systems poses one of the greatest challenges for public health, as the risks of long-term exposure to pesticides clearly extend beyond the farm.