New book chapter explores how trade liberalization affects nutrition and health

Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Informal food trade is less amenable to regulation and may be an important cause of foodborne disease (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).

The World Health Organization last month (August 2015) published a book on trade and health that provides useful background information for health policymakers to formulate a national response to trade and health-related issues, especially within the context of liberalization of global trade.

Trade liberalization influences the entire food supply chain. Changes along the food supply chain in turn influence the environment in which consumers make choices about the food they eat. These choices affect the diets of consumers and, therefore, the prevalence of foodborne diseases, undernutrition, and obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases.

There are also indirect effects of trade liberalization on human nutrition and health. These include the effects on household incomes and the inadvertent entry of emerging human, animal and plant diseases.

However, assessing national-level nutrition and health impacts of trade and trade policy is a complex affair. Therefore, in a chapter on trade liberalization, food, nutrition and health, the authors discuss four basic steps that governments can adopt to assess the potential impact of trade liberalization on food-related health and nutrition. These are:

  • an assessment of the types of impacts trade liberalization could have on a selected sub-set of key nodes in the food supply chain
  • an assessment of the subsequent impact on food safety, food availability, food prices and food marketing
  • an assessment on the food-related health outcomes themselves, namely foodborne diseases, undernutrition, and obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases
  • an assessment of the implications of trade agreements on the policy space required to address these health conditions

The chapter also puts forward a number of opportunities for using trade policy to improve nutrition and health.

The chapter Trade liberalization, food, nutrition and health was authored by Corinna Hawkes, Honorary Fellow at the City University London Centre for Food Policy and Senior Adviser at the Leverhulme Center for Integrative Research into Agriculture and Health; Delia Grace, Program Leader, Food Safety and Zoonoses, International Livestock Research Institute and Anne Marie Thow, Lecturer in health policy at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney.

Access the book, Trade and Health: Towards building a National Strategy, edited by Richard Smith, Chantal Blouin, Zafar Mirza, Peter Beyer and Nick Drager.