Farmers the ‘lifeblood of our food systems’, deputy UN chief highlights, ahead of key summit
Farmers the ‘lifeblood of our food systems’, deputy UN chief highlights, ahead of key summit
Farmers, especially women and indigenous people, work tirelessly to put food on our tables. UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed met on Saturday women producers at a farmers’ market in Circo Massimo, Rome, ahead of the Food Systems Pre-Summit taking place next week.
Dozens of stalls were set up in the vicinity of the UN event’s venue, where heads of state and delegates will gather from Monday to discuss ways to transform food systems to tackle hunger, poverty, climate change and inequality.

UN and government officials toured the market to meet with farmers before paying tribute to producers, particularly women, for their central role in food systems.

Farmers are the lifeblood of our food systems”, said Ms. Mohammed. “Understanding their needs and the challenges they face helps ensure that emerging solutions are fit for purpose”, she added.

Unnoticed contributions

The Deputy Secretary General, joined by Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, visited the stalls of women producers. They also addressed the market and welcomed two Food Systems Heroes on stage to share their stories.

The visit aimed to raise awareness of the essential, yet often unnoticed, contribution that women producers make and to highlight the urgent need to support greater resilience against shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Women farmers and ‘agripreneurs’ are often held back through a lack of resources and access to information. Supporting women with the same skills, tools and training is a failsafe way to improve food systems”, said Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organizations (PAFO).

The Food Systems Pre-Summit

The three-day Pre-Summit will begin on Monday, bringing together delegates from more than 100 countries in a hybrid event to deliver the latest evidence-based and scientific approaches from around the world, launch a set of new commitments through coalitions of action and mobilize new financing and partnerships.

The event will bring together youth, farmers, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, researchers, the private sector, policy leaders and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, nutrition and finance, among other key players.

The meeting will set the stage for the culminating global event in September by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UN Women/Lianne Milton

A mother and her two daughters use logbooks to record what they consume, sell, donate or exchange from their farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Key facts to be addressed at the meeting

Hunger

  • As many as 811 million people went hungry in 2020, with an estimated 118 million joining the food insecure
  • Around 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 – 30 million more than had the pandemic not occurred
  • In 2020, around one in five children under five were affected by stunting caused by malnutrition
  • Around three billion people are unable to afford healthy diets

Climate change and biodiversity loss

  • Food systems contribute an estimated one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Deforestation and climate change means the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon than it stores
  • Food systems are the greatest driver of biodiversity loss, responsible for up to 80% of losses and around 25% of species under threat of extinction

Poverty

  • Almost 100 million people found themselves in poverty as a result of the pandemic
  • Global unemployment is expected to reach 205 million in 2022, from 187 million in 2019
  • Shortcomings in food systems account for an estimated $12 trillion in hidden costs

Food loss and waste

  • Around a third of all food produced is lost or wasted every year
  • If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third most emitting nation in the world
  • Reducing food waste would cost an estimated $30 billion but the potential return could be as much as $455 billion
Alarming Discover: Freshwater Methamphetamine Pollution Turns Brown Trout Into Addicts
Alarming Discover: Freshwater Methamphetamine Pollution Turns Brown Trout Into Addicts

Brown Trout

Human pollution is often evident from oil slicks and plastic drifting on shore, but many of the drugs that we consume also end up washing out into our water and current effluent treatment isn’t equipped to deal with them. Drugs such as fluoxetine — also known as Prozac — creeping into our waterways can embolden fish and alter their behavior, but pharmaceutical pollution doesn’t end with prescribed medication. Illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine, can also accumulate in our waterways.

“Whether illicit drugs alter fish behavior at levels increasingly observed in surface water bodies was unclear,” says Pavel Horký from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Czech Republic. He and his colleagues, from the same university and the University of Southern Bohemia in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, decided to investigate whether brown trout (Salmo trutta) are at risk of addiction from illegal methamphetamine in their waterways and discovered that they are. The team publish this alarming discovery in Journal of Experimental Biology.

After isolating brown trout in a tank of water laced with 1 μg l-1 methamphetamine (a level that has been found in freshwater rivers) for 8 weeks, Horký and colleagues transferred the fish to a freshwater tank and checked whether the animals were experiencing withdrawal — offering them a choice between freshwater or water containing methamphetamine — every alternate day for 10 days. If the fish had become addicted to the low levels of methamphetamine in their water, they would be feeling the effects of withdrawal and would seek the drug when it was available.

Tracking the fish’s choices, it was clear to the team that the trout that had spent 2 months in methamphetamine-contaminated water had become addicted, selecting water containing the drug as they suffered withdrawal during the first 4 days after moving to freshwater. In addition, the addicted fish were less active than trout that had never experienced the drug, and the researchers found evidence of the drug in the fish’s brains up to 10 days after the methamphetamine was withdrawn. It seems that, even low levels of illicit drugs in our waterways can affect the animals that reside there.

Horký is also concerned that drug addiction could drive fish to congregate near unhealthy water treatment discharges in search of a fix, as well as disturbing their natural tempo of life. “The elicitation of drug addiction in wild fish could represent another example of unexpected pressure on species living in urban environments,” he suggests.

Reference: “Methamphetamine pollution elicits addiction in wild fish” by Horký, P., Grabic, R., Grabicová, K., Brooks, B. W., Douda, K., Slavík, O., Hubená, P., Sancho Santos, E. M. and Randák, T., 6 July 2021, Journal of Experimental Biology.
DOI: 10.1242/jeb.242145

The reality of fake food: Foodwatch uncovers the hidden world of food fraud
The reality of fake food: Foodwatch uncovers the hidden world of food fraud

Food fraud is all around us: in our supermarkets, restaurants, at the corner shop or online. Selling counterfeit, contaminated, adulterated or illegal food; giving fake designation of origin labels; creating imitation wines or fake pesticides has become a juicy business where the risk of getting caught is disturbingly low. Industry and politicians know this, but the subject is not spoken about publicly. Indeed in France, as in other Member States of the European Union, it is cleverly hidden. 

This is the subject of a new book “Manger du faux pour de vrai. Les scandales de la fraude alimentaire,” published in French by Robert Laffont, and available in France, Belgium and Switzerland. The book is written by Ingrid Kragl, head of investigations at foodwatch France. Supported by numerous testimonies, it details the criminal schemes in place and explains why there are too many reasons why authorities are not taking action and proposing solutions. foodwatch is therefore launching a call for action in France today, allowing citizens to ask two key French Ministers why they are not dealing with this unacceptable situation and to demand transparency. The European regulation on food (EC 178/2002) is clear: the Member States are ultimately responsible for monitoring and protecting us. However, the extent of the existence of food fraud proves that political will does not match the problem… and that is a concern for us all. 

Faced with the scale of food fraud, the opacity of the French authorities – who are, if not complicit, complacent with the offenders – is unbearable. Our investigation shows the scale of food fraud. Citizens have the right to know and to be protected more effectively. 

Ingrid Kragl Head of investigations at foodwatch France

France is not the worst country on the European map, but as a country renowned for, and proud of its gastronomy, it is nevertheless widely affected by food fraud. Reports from the fraud control authorities and European and international agencies provide examples: one out of two spices is fraudulent; 43% of honey on the market has compositional or quality defects or are falsely labelled as coming from France – some are chemically adulterated and the ingredients have never been close to a beehive. Languedoc wines are fraudulently renamed Pomerol, Margaux or Saint-Julien. One in twelve organic products checked in France is not as organic as it claims. In the region of Alpes Maritimes, the figure is as high as one in three organic products inspected. 

Opacity is a political choice

On a European scale, horses that are unfit for consumption and full of medication still sneak into the food chain. One in seven pesticides is counterfeit (source: European Union Intellectual Property Office, EUIPO) and these sinister imitations of plant protection products are used in our countries. Sunflower oil priced at one euro per litre is transformed into olive oil sold at ten times the price thanks to the addition of… chlorophyll. Rotten tuna is injected with dangerous additives to look fresh and then sold as if nothing had happened. The mafia and organised crime networks have realised that food trafficking is a profitable business: there is little risk of being caught and it is a great way to launder money from drugs and other trafficking.

These few examples are far from being isolated cases. The “Manger du faux pour de vrai” survey reveals that fraud is undoubtedly getting into our fridges and cupboards. But, with the notable exception of the French wine sector, consumers are mostly ignorant of the details: which products are concerned? Which brands? Where are they sold? In what quantities? 

This lack of transparency on food fraud is dangerous and has been criticised by many experts, including the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has ruled in favour of Member States communicating more transparently in “the interests of consumers, whose protection is one of the objectives pursued by food law.” The current opacity fuels a climate of impunity that encourages fraudsters as much as it fuels consumer mistrust. 

A European priority? 

Within the European Union, the fight against food fraud is part of the “Farm to Fork” strategy published in May 2020. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has tasked the Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, with developing “a strategy with concrete measures against food fraud,” working with EU member states and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

What role does France wish to play in this European strategy and what role will it play in increasing transparency for citizens? What resources will it have? Will the fight against food fraud be one of France’s priorities during the French presidency of the Council of the European Union from January to June 2022? foodwatch has asked these questions in an open letter to the two ministers concerned.

“It is high time to equip ourselves with the means to tackle food fraud: we need more transparency and dissuasive sanctions, but also more controls . This is a political choice. In France, and throughout the European Union,” concludes Karine Jacquemart, Director of foodwatch France. 

  • SCANDALES ALIMENTAIRES
A SWEDISH RESTAURANT OFFERS EVERY MENU SERVED AT THE NOBEL BANQUETS SINCE 1922 TO PRESENT DAY
A SWEDISH RESTAURANT OFFERS EVERY MENU SERVED AT THE NOBEL BANQUETS SINCE 1922 TO PRESENT DAY

The Nobel Banquet – an annual celebration in honor of the academic, cultural and scientific achievements of the respective Nobel laureates for this year – is a prestigious event held every December 10, which the general public will never receive the honor of attending. Fortunately, this does not mean that we cannot enjoy any part of the celebrations enjoyed by Nobel Prize winners and their guests.

For the past 15 years, the Stadshuskällaren, a Swedish restaurant hidden in the basement of Stockholm City Hall, has provided every menu served during the Nobel Banquet from 1922 to the present day. (The banquet itself is held in the Blue Hall of the same building.) And with prior reservation, diners can enjoy the same dishes as the winners – from Sir Alexander Fleming, who won in 1945, to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964 and Mother Teresa in 1979 (They dine on deer, goose liver and beef, respectively.)

“The Nobel Banquet is a holiday that is known worldwide, so we thought it would be a good idea to let everyone enjoy the food,” said Maria Strid, co-owner and CEO of Stadshuskällaren. “It would be fun to do if you travel from another country and want to try something special that is related to Sweden. Often people choose a particular year that is important to them, such as the year they were born or the year one of their country wins the award.

Oyster says no particular year has been more popular with diners, but notes that there are often increased requests for the Nobel banquet menu from the previous year. “Some of the earliest menus offer dishes that may not be as popular with guests today as turtle soup,” she says. “And in some of the menus of the 1960s, the appetizer is chicken, which is no longer considered such a specialty these days.”

But despite the choice of ingredients, the team of chefs responsible for recreating the dishes is adamant that they are as close in taste and appearance to the originally served. To make the experience as authentic as possible, the restaurant also arranges the food in porcelain dishes with gold edging, which is the same as the sets used at the banquet. Each menu is also offered with wine that is as close in taste as the one served for the specific year.

“Some of the wines served over the years are too expensive to serve today,” says Maria, “so we try to find ones with the same character and the same grapes that are suitable as flavor combinations for food.”

Although cooking can often be a challenge – for menus that are older than the previous year, Oyster wants guests to make a reservation at the restaurant at least a week in advance to ensure that the kitchen can accommodate all necessary ingredients. As the restaurant also serves a regular dinner menu every night, there are two kitchens serving the restaurant, one focusing only on dishes outside the historic menu. Oyster estimates that 2,000 visitors come to the restaurant each year to try a dish from this menu. While a smaller group of guests can take advantage of the latest menu, she says that for older menus, visitors must be at least 10 people and that in the past the restaurant accommodated groups of up to 80. The price for a visit varies in depending on the year, but the menu for 2018 is about 1795 crowns or approximately 200 dollars.

Creating a new banquet menu every year is a complex endeavor in itself. The assignment takes about a year to prepare and involves a team of consultant chefs working closely with Oyster and its staff, as well as members of the Nobel Foundation.

For the past 15 years, chef Fredrik Erickson has had the honor of working with the Nobel Foundation on banquet menus. The process is detailed and includes numerous revisions and several official tastings. He and his team must not only create a multi-tiered menu that serves more than 1,000 guests at a time, but must also take into account dietary restrictions and the availability of ingredients, as the kitchen designs the menu in the spring, but must consider what products will be offered during the colder months when the banquet is held.

“We work closely with farmers in Sweden and try to ensure that the menu is as fresh as possible by using local ingredients,” says Erickson. “We also have sommelier who choose wines and a team of confectioners who create desserts to complement the dinner.”

Iran, yakhchāl, faloodeh and why Italy is not the homeland of ice cream
Iran, yakhchāl, faloodeh and why Italy is not the homeland of ice cream

In summer, one of the saves in the heat is ice cream. Whether we choose it from the freezer in the store or rely on more expensive craft options, the important thing is to enjoy it.

Even if we haven’t thought about where the ice cream comes from, the answer will surely surprise us. At least, because it’s not Italy. Iran is considered the birthplace of ice cream. It all started about 2000 years ago. A solution to the difficult task from today’s point of view – to lower the temperature to the point of freezing, gives a cone-shaped building in ancient Persia. They call me yakhchāl (ancient type evaporative cooler).

Above the ground it is conical in shape, and in its deep underground part the temperature is low enough to freeze water. In fact, this is one of the prides of Iranian architecture.

Each yakhchāl has a massive wall that provides shade, a pond from which the water comes, and an underground storage room where it freezes due to the low temperature. Leder, whether obtained during the nights of the cold months or brought from the nearby mountains, is stored here for months.

This technique was used as early as 400 BC. With this ice, the Iranians also prepared faloodeh – their typical dessert, which is very similar to today’s ice cream. Faloodeh (an Arabicized form of paloodeh that appeared after the Arab conquest of Iran, due to a lack of the phoneme /p/ in Standard Arabic) is a combination of ice, starch and different types of syrup. In appearance, the final product looks like very thin spaghetti.

Today in many places in Iran you can still try faloodeh, writes the BBC. Here it is offered along with ice cream, which we are all used to seeing everywhere. The traditional dessert includes sheep’s milk, rose water, saffron and sugar. It is very likely that not everyone will like the faloodeh, but it is worth a try if you have the opportunity. Of course, today it is not stored in a yakhchāl, but in refrigerators.

Nowadays, after thousands of years of preparing faloodeh, ice cream machines are being imported to Iran from Italy, which many consider to be the home of the ice cream dessert, because it is becoming really popular there.

The Iranians themselves prefer a richer taste, with more sugar and whole milk – like the Americans. While in Europe, where the hegemons are the Italians, lighter versions of ice cream and various types of sorbets are consumed.

Famine risk spikes amid conflict, COVID-19 and funding gaps: WFP
Famine risk spikes amid conflict, COVID-19 and funding gaps: WFP

The impact of conflicts old and new, climate shocks and COVID-19, in addition to a lack of funding, have left millions more on the verge of famine than six months ago, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

Photo: WFP/Saleh Bin Haiyan – A mother feeds her daughter a nutrition bar she received from a mobile health clinic in Yemen.

In an appeal for $5 billion “to avoid famine” and support the “biggest operation in its history”, WFP spokesperson Phiri Tomson said that millions of refugees faced “uncertainty and hunger” as the impact of the pandemic on emergency aid budgets became clearer.

“The number of people teetering on the brink of famine has risen from 34 million projected at the beginning of the year, to 41 million projected as of June”, he said. “Without immediate emergency food assistance, they too face starvation, as the slightest shock will push them over the cliff into famine conditions.”

From bad to worse

According to the latest IPC food insecurity assessments – which humanitarians use to assess needs on a scale of one to five – the 41 million “are people who are in IPC phase 4 – emergency”, the WFP spokesperson explained.

New refugee influxes linked to conflict and drought have increased needs for people in “IPC phase 5 – catastrophe” and “that number stands at 584,000 people”, Mr. Phiri continued. “These are people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Madagascar, particularly the southern part; South Sudan, especially as we are now at the height of the lean season in that country, and Yemen.”

‘Brutal choices’

Launching its Global Operational Response Plan, the UN agency highlighted operations in no less than eight countries and regions where it has had to make “brutal choices” because of significant funding shortfalls.

In practice, this has meant reduced rations “across east and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East…among some of the world’s most vulnerable people who rely on WFP to survive”, said Mr. Phiri.

“In some cases it’s 40 per cent, in some cases it’s 25 per cent, in some cases it’s 60 per cent…The fact is, the assistance we provide is a basic need, the assistance we provide is just enough to help people get by.”

West and Central Africa in crisis

For many vulnerable aid recipients in West and Central Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has left them without the opportunity to work to supplement their rations and unable to pay for increasingly expensive staple foods. “Countries like Chad, Niger and Burkina, Mauritania; these are all countries of concern, including Sierra Leone as well,” said Mr. Phiri, after a warning by the UN agency that the world was no longer moving towards Zero Hunger.

“Progress has stalled, reversed, and today, more than 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021,” it said in a statement.