2014 saw many struggles, but also many steps forward in improving our food systems. Food Tank is pleased to highlight some of the biggest steps forward in making the global food system better for everyone. These are 10 of the greatest food victories of 2014:
African Heads of State Commit to End Hunger by 2025:
At the African Union Summit in January, member states officially adopted the goal of ending hunger on the continent by 2025. This new target aligns the continent with the Zero Hunger Challenge previously launched by the United Nations Secretary General in 2012. The target will promote concrete actions on the part of governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector to reduce hunger. Eleven African countries have already halved the number of hungry people since 1990. This new target is raising the bar and building on the previous target’s momentum.
Brazil Reduces Deforestation by 70 Percent:
This year, it became evident that Brazil had successfully reduced deforestation by 70 percent, even while soy and beef production increased, showing that there are sustainable methods of increasing production of the world’s largest commodities. Economic growth does not have to equal total resource depletion. The effects are greater than “three times bigger than the effect of taking all the cars in the U.S. off the road for a year,” as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. As the demand for arable land is only going to increase with the world’s rising need for food, success stories such as this show that there is hope to increase food production in a way that is better managed and truly sustainable.
California Field Worker Sexual Harassment Bill Becomes Law:
It is not widely publicized, but female farm workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1087 into law, which will require sexual harassment prevention training for farm labor contractors, supervisors, and employees. It is a step in safeguarding female farmworkers in California. This bill arose from an investigation done by Univison, UC Berkeley’s FRONTLINE program, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, affirming journalism’s ability to bring about change.
Florida Coalition of Workers Turns Pennies into Millions:
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, using the Fair Food Program, has pressured the growers that produce 90 percent of Florida’s tomatoes to increase wages for their 30,000. The program requires any company that has signed on to pay an extra penny per pound to the growers who follow the program’s mandates, which goes directly to the field workers. The coalition has gotten many companies to sign on in the past few years, most noticeably getting Walmart to sign on in January. An extra penny per pound adds up to millions of dollars in additional wages for the workers of Immokalee. It is especially amazing considering those fields were considered to have some of the worst working conditions in the United States, including modern-day slave labor, just a few years ago. Today, the fields are considered some of the best, according to Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND graduate school. Rutgers labor relations professor Janice R. Fine says, “This is the best workplace-monitoring program I’ve seen in the United States.”
New Study Shows Hope for Organic Productivity Gap:
A new study out of University of California-Berkeley shows promising new data for the productivity gap between organically grown crops and conventionally grown crops. Whereas previous studies cited have claimed the gap to be approximately 25 percent, this new, larger and more detailed study claims the gap is closer to 19 percent, a great improvement. More importantly, the study showed that two agricultural methods, multi-cropping and crop-rotation, reduced the gap even further, to approximately 9 and 8 percent respectively. With further research and advancement, the gap can be further reduced or even eliminated for some crops or regions.
The Signing of the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge:
At the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in September, the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge was announced by some of the world’s leading palm oil producers and consumers. These companies include Unilever and Cargill, whose CEO David MacLennan says, “We want to be visible and a leader in terms of progressing the improvement of the industry relative to sustainability and deforestation.” Palm oil is used in countless food products, and demand for the commodity is expected to double by 2030. If this is true, committing to sustainable palm oil production needs to be the standard, not just an exception to the norm. The Indonesian Palm Oil pledge, and the companies that have signed on, are leading the way.
United States’ Largest School Food Group to Source Antibiotic-Free Chicken:
In December, the Urban School Food Alliance announced plans to ban the purchase of chicken raised with antibiotics. Collectively, the alliance buys more than US$552 million of food to feed nearly 2.9 million students daily. Aside from the students this plan will directly affect, an announcement like this has the potential to influence other districts to source in this way and decrease the use of antibiotics in foods for school meals.
USDA Awards US$52 Million in Grants to Organic and Local Food Systems:
In September, in an effort to revitalize rural economies, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be giving US$52 million in support of organic, local and regional food systems, via five USDA grant programs. These grants will allow for projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities, and increase access to healthy food. The grants will increase the visibility of small- and medium-scale farmers so that locally-produced foods can make their way to market. The grants will also help producers who have adopted organic growing practices to raise awareness of their products. Most of these funds were made available through the Agricultural Act of 2014, the 2014 farm bill.
USDA Proposes Changes to the 20-Year-Old Nutrition Label:
In August, the USDA announced proposed changes to the nutrition labels found on most food packaging in the U.S. to be more informative and more easily understood. Updates include increased information about added sugars and more accurate daily value percentages. The serving sizes would also be updated to reflect current trends in portion sizes. The USDA offers the example of a 20 ounce soda, which is labeled as more than one serving, but is most often consumed at once; the new labeling would reflect this, and the increased calorie and sodium content that comes with it. The updated label will lead to increased consumer knowledge and a healthier consumer.
World Hungry Population Down by Over 200 Million:
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed, in their State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, that the number of hungry people globally has declined by 209 million since 1990. Though there are still over 800 million hungry people globally, this is at least a step in the right direction. The FAO claims that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of hungry people by 2015 is still possible. “This is proof that we can win the war against hunger, and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed,” wrote the heads of FAO.