UN Calls for Rethinking Farm Subsidies

July 7, 2022
Nations should reorient their systems of agricultural subsidies toward healthier foods, according to a new report from the United Nations.

Nations, especially in the developed world, should reorient their systems of agricultural subsidies toward healthier foods, according to a new report from the United Nations.

The report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” paints a dire picture of global hunger, noting that the worldwide rate of food insecurity rose from 8% in 2019, to 9.3% in 2020, to 9.8% in 2021. Climate change, war, economic shocks and growing income inequality are combining to plunge up to 828 million into food insecurity, the report says.

Among its suggestions are a plea for countries with heavy agricultural output to rethink the kinds of foods they subsidize farmers to produce. In the U.S., more than half of all calories consumed come, directly or indirectly, from subsidized commodities like wheat, corn, milk, livestock and soybeans. This leads to long-term problems that include unhealthy diets and negative environmental impacts.

“Positive gains could be made in terms of human health through increased consumption of nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses,” the report says. “Repurposing half or all subsidies to nutritious foods is found to lead to hundreds of thousands of fewer diet-related deaths and reductions in [greenhouse gas] emissions.” It noted, however, that this may be difficult for less-developed nations with more modest agricultural subsidies.

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