Imported food not cheaper than local in the long run

Antigua’s Deputy Director of Agriculture Astley Joseph said the nation should not be duped into believing that importing food is cheaper than buying the produce locally, The Antigua Observer reports.

Over the past few years, the Ministry of Agriculture has been attempting to increase local production and reduce imports. Joseph said that those who believe this will lead to higher prices are not seeing the full picture.

Joseph argued that while the price tag on imported foodstuffs may be lower than local goods, the health consequences means the eventual costs of foreign foods turn out far higher.

“In the region we talk about the importation of cheap food, of course that is a fallacy because it’s not cheap, because when we consider the foods that we import and those especially that are processed with high levels of sugar, salts and fats we realize the problem that they cause in our societies — for example hypertension, diabetes, cancer and these type of things,” Joseph said.

“When we look at the cost of treating these non-communicable diseases we realise it costs us much more in terms of what we are thinking about in terms of just the (label cost) of the food we import,” Joseph said.

Joseph recently returned from Barbados where he took part in a three-day Caricom workshop to validate the Draft Regional Food and Nutrition Security Action Plan.

The deputy director said a key part of the plan is preserving the nutritional content of regionally produced food.

“One of the pillars was to look at nutrition value of food, that is Caribbean food and so that even though they are going to be processed, we are looking that they are processed in a way that instead of being injurious to health they will be a means of promoting health” Joseph said.

Joseph’s comments follow similar sentiments being shared by the Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Florita Kentish at the same workshop.

Kentish said that the heavy dependence of Caribbean countries on a wide range of imported foods has resulted in increasing number of dietary-related illnesses and diseases being diagnosed across a wide cross-section of the region’s population.

She said the movement towards imported foods has meant that nutrition-related chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and cancer have replaced malnutrition and infectious diseases as major public health problems.

Joseph said he is hoping a stop can be put to industrial countries dumping cheap unhealthy foods in the region once the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) accepts the action plan.

Meanwhile he said the region is still far from achieving adequate production levels to the degree that it can significant reduce the food import bill, attain food and nutrition security, and reduce the impact of non-communicable diseases.

“We are looking at production in the region which of course is way below par so we are looking at increasing production at the regional level. This does not require a lot funds, it just requires promotion to our farmers and fisher folk to increasing the supply,” he said.

Joseph said that in order to become more self-sufficient the region must give life to a recent suggestion that the production of certain foods be allocated to specific Caribbean countries.

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