Global diets becoming more standardized

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As people around the world generally gain access to more food, their diets also are becoming more similar. And scientists express concern that a decline in dietary diversity could lead to increasing health problems. A report on the study, titled “Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security,” is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors note that crops such as wheat, rice, corn, potatoes and soybeans have increasingly become the standards within the global food supply. Wheat is a major staple in 97 percent of countries and rice in 91 percent, while soybeans are gaining as a global staple food, as a significant portion of diets in 74 percent of countries.

Adoption of these crops, in many cases, comes at the expense of local or regional foods that historically played important nutritional roles for people around the world. The authors note that crops such as sorghum, millets, rye, sweet potato, cassava, yam and others have become less prominent in global diets.

Quoted in a news release, lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), says "More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat, and they rely increasingly on a short list of major food crops, like wheat, maize and soybean, along with meat and dairy products, for most of their food. These foods are critical for combating world hunger, but relying on a global diet of such limited diversity obligates us to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines."

The researchers also express concern that increasing homogeneity in food production could make agriculture more vulnerable to threats such as drought, insect pests and diseases, which could be exacerbated by climate change.

Several factors have led to adoption of more Western-style diets around the world, according to the report. These include urbanization, trade liberalization, mechanized agriculture, extensive commodity transport systems, multinational food industries, food quality and safety standardization, mass media, labor changes, smaller family sizes, supermarkets, fast food, processed foods and human migration.

The research abstract and full article are available online from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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March, 05, 2014 at 03:56 PM

Mr. Maday, we are glad to see you address this topic. The loss of food diversity is one of the greatest tragedies of post-modern times, an unfortunate side effect of globalization, mass-marketing, and other corporate economic tactics that by all accounts should be making human life easier. Our ease is being compromised by dis-ease. Although we have new weapons against old diseases, new diseases that were uncommon among our ancestors run rampant in this urban age, ranging from auto-immune disorders, food allergies, and anti-biotic resistant staph through the gamut of cancers, diabetes and inflammatory conditions. Virtually all of these new maladies can be averted or cured with a varied diet of good foods produced on healthy soil. Hippocrates advised us to "let our food be our medicine and our medicine be our food" over 4000 years ago. Sadly, most 21st century Americans don't know the truth and wisdom behind his prescription, and most corporations do not heed the first law of medicine, which is "Do no harm." Yet another tragedy is the increasing loss of the knowledge, skill sets and opportunities that allowed previous generations to preserve and improve the soil quality that ensures food quality, and to grow and cultivate the wide variety of foods human beings need to eat in order to maintain optimum health and vitality. In the future, we will all hear more about this topic, and we hope that your publications continue to note them. Even most farmers and ranchers are now uninformed about what keeps people and their animals truly healthy. We have fallen victim to the ploys of marketing, which inundate us with half-truths, misinformation, and downright lies--anything to take dollars from our pockets, regardless of harm.


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