Report calls on feds, food and ag sectors to work together to battle malnutrition

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, April 16, 2015 - Thirty public and private leaders from around the world are endorsing a report that calls on the U.S. government to provide leadership on global malnutrition and food insecurity issues by committing to a long-term, globally minded agricultural development and food systems strategy.

Lets Talk Food

“Virtually every country in the world is dealing with health issues that are linked to nutrition,” Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said today after the report was released at a symposium in Washington. “As we consider how to feed a more populated and affluent world sustainably, it is essential that the food produced be nutritious.”

The report - Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition - concludes that malnutrition and food insecurity are among the biggest issues facing the U.S. and the world today, imposing burdensome healthcare costs, stunting labor market productivity and stymying global economic prosperity.

The report calls on the White House to provide leadership and oversee implementation of a forthcoming Global Nutrition Coordination Plan being developed by a panel of U.S. agencies. And it asks Congress to create a bipartisan commission to tackle global malnutrition that includes members of Congress, key administration officials, and scientific and business leaders from the agriculture and health sectors.

The report also recommends:

-- Congress pass legislation that commits the U.S. to a global food and nutrition security strategy;

-- the U.S. government, working with universities, business and civil society, increase funding for nutrition research to expand access to diverse, nutrient-rich foods and address malnutrition;

-- the U.S. leverage the strength of its research and education infrastructure to train the next generation of agriculture, food, and nutrition leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

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Dan Glickman, former U.S. agriculture secretary and a co-chair of the task force responsible for the report, told attendees at today's symposium that “agriculture and food sectors are (the) driving forces in overcoming malnutrition.”  Yet he said too often the agendas of the food, agriculture, nutrition and health sectors are misaligned.

“This must change for us to improve people's health,” Glickman said.

According to the report's findings, malnutrition in all its forms - either too little food or too much food - affects about half the people in every country in the world. It estimates 805 million people are chronically hungry and 2 billion people are deficient in key micronutrients, with 3.1 million children dying every year due to undernutrition. At the same time, 1.9 billion people are overweight or obese among a world population of just over 7 billion.

“Our governments, including the United States, cannot afford this healthcare burden, our businesses can not grow when productivity is hampered and our consciences should not permit us to live with these social costs,” said Glickman. “The good news is that our food system can be a key partner in alleviating malnutrition.”

Current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the conference's keynote speaker, told the audience USDA is doing its part to share its knowledge of agriculture, as well as its resources and data, with other countries around the world through President Obama's Feed the Future program. 

“During the time I've been secretary, (the Feed the Future program) has helped feed 26 million children and, as importantly, trained 32,000 individuals in child health and nutrition,” around the world, he said. 

In the interest of expanding USDA's influence in international agricultural programs, Vilsack said his agency has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Agency for International Development “to leverage (the agencies') resources more effectively in the future.” 

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