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Food Security: Definition & General Information

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2015/03/17

Synopsis: Definition and Information on Food Security and how global warming water shortages and crisis affect Security of our food supplies.

Main Document

Food security is defined as the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full-scale famine. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life".

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life". Commonly, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences. Household food security exists when all members, at all times, have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security incorporates a measure of resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various risk factors including droughts, shipping disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars.

  • Food stability: Refers to the ability to obtain food over time.
  • Food access: Refers to the affordability and allocation of food, as well as the preferences of individuals and households.
  • Food availability: Relates to the supply of food through production, distribution, and exchange.

What is Food Security

Two common definitions of food security come from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (FAO)
  • Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum, (USDA):

(1) The ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods

(2) An assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).

In 2006 it was reported that globally, the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished - the world had more than one billion people who were overweight, and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished. Worldwide around 852 million people are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while up to 2 billion people lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty. 17,000 children die of hunger and malnutrition related diseases every day, which equals 6 million children who die of hunger every year.

In the United States of America there are approximately 2,000,000 farmers, less than 1% of the population. A direct relationship exists between food consumption levels and poverty. Families with the financial resources to escape extreme poverty rarely suffer from chronic hunger; while poor families not only suffer the most from chronic hunger, but are also the segment of the population most at risk during food shortages and famines.

Things affecting food security today include:

  • Global Water Crisis - Water table reserves are falling in many countries (including Northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread over-pumping and irrigation.
  • Climate Change - Rising global temperatures are beginning to have a ripple effect on crop yields, forest resources, water supplies and altering the balance of nature.
  • Land Degradation - Intensive farming leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields.
  • Greedy Land Deals - Corporations and Governments buying rights to millions of acres of agricultural land in developing countries to secure their own long-term food supplies.

Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Food Security

Will genetically modified foods be the answer to a crisis in food security? At present little is known on the consequences and future safety aspects of GM foods. The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops in the wild (out-crossing), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America.

Far from focusing on the needs of the poor in developing countries, GM crop development is driven by the commercial interests of US and European companies. The major GM crops currently grown - soya, oilseed rape, cotton and maize - are designed to support the food and textile industries of the developed world. There is currently little GM research and development by private companies on staple food crops vital to developing countries.

"Terminator" seeds are modified to produce sterile seeds. This prevents farmers from saving seeds to plant the following season. 1.4 billion people, mainly poor farmers in developing countries, depend on saved seed. Farmers are then forced to buy new seeds every year from the biotech companies. Despite universal condemnation from farmers' movements all over the world, the technology is still being developed today.

Food security is not just a poverty issue; it is a much larger issue that involves the whole food system and affects every one of us in some way. Issues such as whether households get enough food, how it is distributed within the household and whether that food fulfills the nutrition needs of all members of the household show that food security is clearly linked to health.

Global Food Security must exist to meet the challenge of providing the world's growing population with a sustainable, secure supply of good quality food.

  • Food insecurity is measured in the United States by questions in the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.
  • Diseases affecting livestock or crops can have devastating effects on food availability especially if there are no contingency plans in place.
  • The approach known as food sovereignty views the business practices of multinational corporations as a form of neocolonialism.
  • FAO reported that almost 870 million people were chronically undernourished in the years 2010-2012.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways."
  • The 1996 World Summit on Food Security declared that "food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure".
  • 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. This number has fallen by 17 percent since 1990.
    Source: State of Food Insecurity in the World,FAO, 2013 (www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/)
  • One out of six children - roughly 100 million - in developing countries is underweight.
    Source: Global health Observatory, WHO, 2012 (www.who.int/gho/mdg/poverty_hunger/underweight/en/)
  • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.
    Source: Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, The Lancet, 2013 (www.thelancet.com/series/maternal-and-child-nutrition)
  • The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.
    Source: State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2013 (www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/)
  • If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.
    Source: Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development, FAO, 2011 (www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e00.htm)
  • Asia has the largest number of hungry people (over 500 million) but Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence (24.8 percent of population).
    Source: State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2013 (www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/)
  • 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
    Source: Two Minutes to Learn About School Meals, WFP, 2012 (documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/communications/wfp220221.pdf)
  • WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.
    Source: Two Minutes to Learn About School Meals, WFP, 2012 (documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/communications/wfp220221.pdf)
  • One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
    Source: Prevalence and Trends of Stunting among Children, Public Health Nutrition, 2012 (www.who.int/nutgrowthdb/publications/stunting1990_2020/en/)
  • 80 percent of the world's stunted children live in just 20 countries.
    Source: Maternal and Child Under-nutrition: Effective Action at National Level,The Lancet, 2008 (www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2807%2961694-8/abstract)



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