Food and Agriculture Organization

Evolve or Die

A resounding silence surrounds an event to take place at the end of this month that, in theory at least, has great significance for the health of the people of Africa. Dr Ebrahim Samba is to step down after serving his maximum two terms of office as Director of WHO's Africa Region (WHO/AFRO). A new leader for WHO's governing body in the African region must therefore be nominated when the Regional Committee meets in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, between Aug 31 and Sept 3.

Southern Africa : Feature on regional food crisis

Southern Africa still requires substantial aid for at least 6.2 million people, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned on Thursday. This was despite increased agricultural output, with the region having produced about two-thirds of its basic food requirements this year. The region's agricultural sector was still very dependent on rain; there were also major macro-economic issues and policy constraints hampering efforts to get food to everyone needing it in Southern Africa. ZIMBABWE FACES ACUTE SHORTAGES This was evident in the situation faced by Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe faces acute food shortages, with some 5.5 million people in need of food aid. Food production in Zimbabwe has fallen by more than 50 percent, measured against a five-year average, due mostly to the current social, economic and political situation and the effects of drought, the FAO/WFP statement noted. IMPACT OF HIV/AIDS The impact of HIV/AIDS in the region had exacerbated the food security crisis. We have 4 million orphans in this region and we have noticed an escalation of child-headed households and households headed by grandparents, usually a single grandparent, Lewis noted. The most productive segment of the population is dying ... people between the ages of 15 and 49, Lewis added. Women, because of their role as primary providers in the majority of households, were doubly affected by the disease. REGIONAL OUTLOOK The FAO's Henri Josserand said the big difference from last year is that some countries have done well - Zambia and Malawi and even Mozambique, have all produced quite a lot of food. But production at the national level does not mean that everyone will have adequate access to food. Meanwhile, Malawi's crop production had improved significantly since the widespread food shortages in 2002. This year it managed to produce, or has in reserve, about 2.3 million mt of cereals, leaving a national shortfall of 90,000 mt, WFP and FAO found. In Zambia, cereal production was estimated at 1.16 million mt, about double the output of 2002. Cereal production in the region increased from 5.4 million mt in 2001/02 to 6.4 million mt this year. But some areas in Swaziland and Lesotho continued to face shortages, the agencies noted. REGIONAL NEED The Southern African Development Community (SADC) deputy executive secretary, Albert Muchunga, said it was forecast that 6.2 million people would require food aid in 2003/04 - a significant decrease from the more than 15 million people aid agencies said needed food aid to survive at the height of the past year's food security crisis. AVOIDING CHRONIC FOOD SHORTAGES Lewis noted that the Consolidated Appeal for Southern Africa would be launched in July. This would outline strategies and interventions planned by agencies to meet the need in the region. The challenge that lay ahead was integrating emergency relief programming with longer-term developmental goals.(Source: Integrated Regional Information Network, PLUSNEWS, 12 June 2003 )

WHO 'infiltrated by food industry' 

The food industry has infiltrated the World Health Organisation, just as the tobacco industry did, and succeeded in exerting undue influence over policies intended to safeguard public health by limiting the amount of fat, sugar and salt we consume, according to a confidential report obtained by the Guardian. The report, by an independent consultant to the WHO, finds that: · food companies attempted to place scientists favourable to their views on WHO and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) committees · they financially supported non-governmental organisations which were invited to formal discussions on key issues with the UN agencies · they financed research and policy groups that supported their views · they financed individuals who would promote anti-regulation ideology to the public, for instance in newspaper articles. The easy movement of experts - toxicologists in particular - between private firms, universities, tobacco and food industries and international agencies creates the conditions for conflict of interest, says the report by Norbert Hirschhorn, a Connecticut-based public health academic who searched archives set up during litigation in the US for references to food companies owned or linked to the tobacco industry. He finds that there is reasonable suspicion that undue influence was exerted on specific WHO/FAO food policies dealing with dietary guidelines, pesticide use, additives, trans-fatty acids and sugar. Some of the strongest criticism in the report is levelled against the ILSI, founded in Washington in 1978 by the Heinz Foundation, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, General Foods, Kraft (owned by Philip Morris) and Procter & Gamble. Until 1991 it was led by Alex Malaspina, vice-president of Coca-Cola. Dr Malaspina established ILSI as a non-governmental organisation in official relations with the WHO and secured it specialised consultative status with the FAO. Eileen Kennedy, global executive director of ILSI, said that the funding of its regional groups came exclusively from industry, while the central body received money from the branches, from government and from an endowment set up by Dr Malaspina. Nonetheless, she said, ILSI regarded itself as an independent. (Source: Sarah Boseley,The Guardian, January 9, 2003