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Provide environmentally, culturally, economically and socially sustainable food

Sunday, Jul 19, 2020 14:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jul 19, 2020 09:02 [IST]

Provide environmentally, culturally, economically and socially sustainable food

Dr DEBAPRIYA MUKHERJEE
Till date, under-nutrition — the insufficient intake of nutrients remains a major source of  ill health. Together, the unprecedented rate of infectious disease emergence and the need to sustainably feed the global population represent two of the most formidable ecological and public health challenges of the 21st century and they interact in complex ways. Although modern agricultural technologies have reduced hunger, improved nutrition and spared some natural ecosystems from conversion to agriculture, current global agricultural production and distribution infrastructure. Still billions of people’s diets are  deficient of one or more crucial nutrients, with major consequences for global morbidity and mortality. This may be attributed to the existing global food system that has changed from fresh to industrialized products at relatively low cost, generating a new pattern of consumption and health of the population.
Mainly food processing techniques, which include the use of additives, such as emulsifiers, preservatives, colorants, sugar and salt has changed the food market across the planet regardless of the seasonality of the raw material. Based on availability of foods in the market, the food products have been classified in three categories according to its processing: (i) natural and minimally processed foods (e.g. vegetables, fruits, pasteurized milk, dry grains, cuts of cooled meat, among others); (ii) processed foods, which are products made essentially with the addition of salts or sugars, and  baked, dried and fermented; (iii) ultra-processed foods based on industrial formulations (soft drinks, chips , instant noodles, candy and many more).  The regular consumption of food additives above the security level can lead to human health damage and to nutritional impoverishment. Also consumption of processed or ultra-processed food may cause adverse impact on environment.
The food processing industry requires a great amount of water and energy and also generates large amounts of waste from the primary production and the industrial processing residues. While consumers purchase these processed food products, they are not aware about the issues related to health and environment. In this context, it should be mandatory that  sustainable culture of food production must be revealed so that a sustainable diet contributing a healthy life for the present and future generations with low environmental impact, can be ensured. A sustainable diet considers aspects of biodiversity, ecosystem and cultural patrimony. In fact, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations advocates the rights of permanent access to quality food based on health promoting practices that are environmentally, culturally, economically and socially sustainable. In addition, empowerment of consumers is necessary through improved and evidence-based health and nutrition information and education to make informed choices regarding consumption of food products for healthy dietary practices. Now food labeling is a powerful tool that influences the consumers decision-making keeping in view the nutritional, health and environmental dimensions of the food item. This would be a strategic tool to promote a behaviour change that will help to contribute  to a decrease in food waste, encourage long-term sustainable consumption, fuel a cycle of responsible production and processing, conscious consumption and health care.
The existing food policy changed the eating habits of consumers and their lifestyle on account of increasing their working hours and decreasing availability of time to cook. The common citizens, very often, do not have access to real healthy food in the market as all are contaminated with the  variety of chemicals. Regular consumption of large amounts of processed/ultra-processed foods may increase the  risk for chronic diseases and obesity due to the consumption of a combination of substances present in these products, such as excess salt and sugar, additives, oils, flours, large amounts of harmful fats and lower fiber content compared to unprocessed or minimally processed food. In addition, processed carbohydrate-rich foods  are a potential source of acrylamide. This molecule is formed during the high temperature processing of these carbohydrate-rich foods as a result of the enzymatic decarboxylation of asparagine. Exposure to acrylamide has recently been reported to be causative factors of  several diseases in the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as of developing tumors in  the thyroid, breast and pituitary.
Consumption of processed potato that represents a popular food item may increase the risk of diseases on regular use. The nutritive value of potatoes depends on the method of preparation, boiling, frying or baking affects potato composition in different ways. Fried potato chips, regardless of the type of oil used, have important nutrient losses, such as vitamin C. In addition, a series of risk factors for diseases such as hypertension, cancer and obesity are associated with the consumption of ultra-processed forms of potatoes. Beyond that, it has been considered the presence of acrylamides and other potentially toxic compounds in potato-based foods of different degrees of processing, such as additives, bisphenols, aldehydes from polyunsaturated fats, nitrites and nitrates, and metals such as cadmium, nickel, arsenic and lead. If potato is cultivated in contaminated,  metals may be present in natura potato. The potential environmental impacts of potatoes begin in agriculture due to the need of pesticides use and this is a critical impact of modern agriculture on the environment, which causes contamination of water resources, deterioration of human health and biota.
Plastic packages are responsible to contaminate the food products because they are made by different polymeric materials associated with additives such as lubricants, plasticizers, stabilizers, UV absorbers, antioxidants, antistatic agents, colorants, optical brighteners, etc., which are used to add desirable characteristics to the final product. Most of these additives are of low molecular weight compounds capable of migrating from packaging materials into the food. The additive bisphenol (BPA) and analogues, commonly used in plastic packing, have been correlated to mutagenicity, congenital defects, cancer risk, endocrine disruption, genotoxicity, neurotoxicity, among other pathologies even at low concentrations. BPA and phthalates additives were also related to pregnancy and early life outcomes, including changes in the pattern of fetal growth and childhood adiposity, possibly in a transgenerational manner.
Since the last century, the use of agrochemicals increased agricultural production to ensure food security but human exposure to agrochemical has been extensively linked to genetic toxicity and dysfunction of different tissues and systems. In addition, along with agricultural practices, several other human activities, such as mining and industrial activities, are responsible for contamination by metals of the soil, water, plants, fish, livestock and, consequently, food products in general, from their in natural stages. Human exposure to metals has been associated with increased cancer risk, kidney damage, endocrine disruption, immunological and neurological effects.
Increasing attitude to consume ultra-processed foods is really cause of concern. Thereby emergent need is  to share the  information of production chain with the consumers through a more informative food labeling. A more informative food labeling promotes healthier lifestyle consumers and in turn may promote an alternative intervention policy.  For example, the origin of an agro-item is important to establish whether it has been treated or not with pesticides and the amount of logistics involved along the food-supply-chain. In this respect, we accentuate the importance of measuring, evaluating and mapping food supply-chains in order to reduce costs, improve human wellbeing, avoid foodborne outbreaks and, finally, preserve the ecosystem services.

E-mail dpmcpcb@yahoo.com

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi