What is a fair price for healthy food?

Friday, 14 August, 2020

Policy managers blog by James McCluggage

I read a recent article in The Conversation that stated that according to a new United Nations (UN) report, global rates of hunger and malnutrition are on the rise. The report estimates that in 2019, 690 million people – eight-point-nine percent of the world’s population were undernourished. It predicts that this number will exceed 840 million by 2030.

The report also includes the number of people who the UN describes as food insecure, meaning that they have trouble getting access to food, over two billion people worldwide are in trouble. This includes people in wealthy, middle-income and low-income countries.

It also mentions that COVID-19 has only made matters worse. The report estimates that the unfolding pandemic and its accompanying economic recession, will push an additional 83 million to 132 million people into undernourishment.

One thing it also found is that when governments primarily focus on making sure people have enough calories, they did so by supporting large transitional corporations and by making fatty, sweet and highly processed foods cheap and accessible.

This now leads into one of the longest running debates in agriculture: What is a fair price for healthy food?

If the price for healthy home-grown produce is too low, then farmers cannot make a sustainable living. Supply will fall meaning the price for consumers goes up. Conversely if the price is too high, then most people can’t afford healthy food and will resort to eating whatever they can afford – often, cheap highly processed foods.

The UN report focuses on trying to make sure that food is as cheap as possible. This is limited in a number of ways.  New research highlights that mostly focusing on cheap prices can promote environmental damage. Large corporations can afford to compete in a market committed to cheap food. Large corporations that are able to lobby and influence government policy in ways that prioritise profit over worker and community safety.

This UN report has stated that the best way to for governments to make sure that everyone has access to good food is to view a healthy diet as a human right. This means first understanding who has the most power over food supplies. Ultimately, it means making sure that the health, safety and dignity of people who produce the world’s food is a central part of the conversation about the cost of healthy diets.

The article has highlighted the consumer but also highlights the inequality on the food producer. Post Brexit we need a future food policy that places emphasis on those who produce the food as a foundation. Let’s hope Government take note!