A new report from the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) has proposed an integrated system for food, health and agricultural policy, to tackle health problems from a food and nutrition perspective.
The CAPI report, entitled Building Convergence: Toward an Integrated Health & Agri-Food Strategy for Canada, said the starting point should be to drive consumer demand in the direction of more nutritious foods, thereby leading businesses to supply that demand.
“Whether the consumer is purchasing food in retail stores or away from home, both nutrition and quality (including taste) are the two top criteria, with price being far less important,” the report said. “As a result, consumer demand for, and industry supply of, foods with “real” or “perceived” healthfulness continues to be a strong area of growth for the agriculture and agri-food sector.”
In particular, it calls for the food industry to be brought into discussions on public health issues like excessive sodium in food, which is known to lead to hypertension, or the elimination of trans fats, which have been shown to raise cholesterol. It said that in recent years, those involved in nutrition and public health have begun to recognize that “the food industry is not necessarily the evil to avoid, but rather can be a powerful ally in achieving the changes needed to combat obesity, chronic disease, and other challenges related to food and diet.”
“The industry can be a particularly strong ally if its power of innovation, technology, and logistics is harnessed,” it said.
Additionally, it suggests a shift of focus from punitive policies, such as so-called ‘fat taxes’, to discussing the possibility of subsidizing healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. However, it says that more research is required to discover how effective taxes on unhealthy foods or subsidies for healthy ones are in order to achieve desired health impacts, such as lowering rates of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
It said: “A specific and sustained interest has been maintained in the media and in policy circles in Canada and abroad concerning “fat” taxes for unhealthy foods. A lower profile interest exists in the use of subsides to encourage healthy foods.”
There are many disease-specific strategies that highlight the role of food in disease prevention, including the need for a multi-faceted approach to steer people toward food-based ways to reduce the risk of disease.
“The opportunity clearly exists to continue to drive consumer demand toward healthier foods through education and industry supply,” it said. “…The food industry has an opportunity to capitalize on accruing economic value from innovative approaches that help address current and future health challenges.”
The health policy sector has made efforts to educate consumers about healthy eating. However, the report claims that “no complete and systematic approach has been developed to move supply and demand toward health and nutrition in a convergent and sustainable manner.”
The full paper is available online here .