To avoid the problems that go with food from the inudstrialized agriculture system, we need to change to food that is grown sustainably.10 Switching to such food reduces the levels of pesticides in humans and prevents some of the negative health impacts. In addition, organically grown food has higher nutritional value, with significantly higher levels of Vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and other nutrients.11
Sustainably- and locally-grown food
Institutions should be urged to adopt policies that significantly increase the percentage of food that is sustainably or organically grown, with an eventual goal of replacing all items that are not sustainably grown within, say, five years. This not only allows serving farm-fresh food, it supports local farmers and the local economy. For institutions, this often means food that is certified organic, but by working with local farmers, it is also possible to have food that is naturally grown even if it is not certified organic. Organic growing has also been shown to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so it helps to mitigate global warming, which is a major concern for public health. In addition to the health benefits, institutions can make a powerful positive impact on the region by purchasing from local growers.
Two steps that are particularly easy to implement immediately are to purchase milk and dairy products only from dairies that do not use bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or antibiotics to increase production and to purchase pasture-fed meat and free-range poultry and eggs from local farmers who use sustainable methods. (Commercial claims of ‘cage free’ and ‘free range’ or ‘pasture fed’ have little meaning, even on food that is certified organic; so there is no substitute for direct contact with a local producer.)
Some unhealthy products of the industrial food system are harder to eliminate because alternatives are not quite so readily available. For example, many processed foods and sweetened beverages use high-fructose corn syrup, despite the fact that this sweetener has been shown to contribute to diabetes and obesity and to be carcinogenic. Unfortunately, it is present in so many foods that it is critical for institutions to identify, purchase, and serve healthy alternatives and make a real effort to inform people about these hazards.
Of course, people want some products that cannot be grown locally. Our commitment to public health should not be restricted to those who live in our own community, and institutions should be urged to take steps to make sure all their suppliers protect environmental health, avoid use of toxic chemicals, and treat workers fairly.
The Fair Trade model supports sustainable development and community empowerment through a market-based trade system that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry, and the environment. A certification system ensures that commodity producers, many of whom are in the global South, receive fair pay for their work and have education and health care for themselves and their families. It also requires sustainable agricultural practices, so many Fair Trade Certified products are also certified organic. As of this date, Fair Trade certification is available for coffee, tea, cocoa & chocolate, vanilla, sugar, tropical fruit, and rice, as well as a number of non-food products. No other certification program provides such broad protections.
We support the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge, a commitment to uphold the dignity and health of those who produce the food we serve. Institutional food-service providers should act promptly to replace current (non-Fair Trade) products with Fair Trade Certified products. Coffee is probably the best place to start, since it is a high-volume commodity and has a corresponding impact on the environment and on the health and wellbeing of producers. Fair Trade coffee is readily available from local and national roasters, and there is very little difference in cost between Fair Trade Certified coffee and coffees of similar quality. After coffee, Fair Trade tea, chocolate, and bananas should be introduced as rapidly as possible along with other products as they become available. Many suppliers carry or can obtain Fair Trade products.
Institutions should be encouraged to become part of the solution. Hospitals and other healthcare institutions should adopt the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge and make a commitment to implement it as quickly as they can, and other institutions should be encouraged to make similar commitments.
From the Healthy Food for Healthy Communities report, April 2010. This report outlines the public health implications of the food products from the dominant industrial agriculture system and food service operations in institutions such as hospitals, colleges & universities, and schools.
The report was produced by and is based on research by student interns working with the Alliance, including students from Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College.