July 19, 2024

Global Food Trade Impact on Diets and Health

A recent study published in the journal Nature Food has shed light on the health implications of international food trade. The researchers analyzed trade data from 2019 to determine the positive and negative effects on dietary risks and diet-related mortality globally.

Food trade plays a significant role in shaping diets, with around 20-25% of food for human consumption being traded internationally. This trade increases food variety and can enhance nutritional security and environmental resource use. However, it is also associated with environmental pollution outsourcing and potential health risks, such as rising obesity. Previous studies on trade and health have mainly focused on correlating health markers with trade liberalization or assessing calorie and nutrient distribution. More research is needed to understand the complex relationships between international food trade and dietary health, considering both the environmental and health implications of traded foods.

To examine the impact of food trade on health, the researchers utilized bilateral trade data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This data includes all food and agricultural products traded annually and undergoes rigorous processing to ensure accuracy. The study aggregated food items into categories essential for health evaluations, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and red meat.

The researchers conducted a comparative risk assessment to evaluate the health impact of food commodities trade, specifically considering dietary risks related to diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The study adjusted risk evaluations for age attenuation and incorporated an uncertainty analysis to provide mortality estimates influenced by trade.

In 2019, over 190 million tonnes of foods associated with dietary risks were traded internationally, accounting for 3-12% of their production. This included legumes, fruits, vegetables, red meat, and nuts. The Americas, Asia, and Europe were the major trading regions, with countries like Brazil, Argentina, China, and Germany as significant exporters.

Food imports played a crucial role in fulfilling national food availability, contributing an average of 3-31 grams per person daily, which amounted to 5-21% of demand. The contribution of imports to per-person food demand varied based on the specific food category and region. Europe heavily relied on imports, especially for fruits, vegetables, and legumes, while Africa had relatively low import dependency.

The analysis revealed a net decrease in diet-related fatality of 1.2 million deaths when trade-related contributions to food intake and food waste were considered. The reductions in mortality were primarily attributed to increased consumption of traded fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. However, the study also found that increased intake of traded red meat was associated with a rise in diet-related mortality.

On a regional scale, Europe, Asia, and the Americas experienced significant reductions in mortality due to food imports, particularly from intra-regional trade. The Americas emerged as the top contributor in reducing mortality, followed by Asia and Europe. Out of 153 importing countries, 152 experienced health benefits from imports of health-sensitive foods, with the United States, Russia, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom being the key beneficiaries. Only Papua New Guinea saw a net increase in diet-related deaths, primarily due to excessive red meat imports.

On the exporting side, 90% of the 181 countries exporting health-sensitive foods contributed to a decline in diet-related mortality, while 10% had a negative impact. China emerged as the top contributor to reducing mortality through exports, driven by vegetables and nuts. Other significant contributors included the United Nations, Brazil, Spain, and Turkey. However, a few countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Ireland were identified as contributing to net increases in mortality due to their substantial exports of red meat.

In conclusion, global food trade has both positive and negative implications for dietary health. While it increases food variety and nutritional security, it also raises concerns about the impact of traded foods on health. The study highlights the need for further research to understand the complexities of international food trade and develop strategies to promote healthy diets on a global scale.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it