MEXICO CITY – The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in force since 1994, is largely responsible for a rapid rise in the number of overweight and obese people in Mexico, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, said.
“Mexico is facing a very serious situation in this regard. Seventy percent of adults are overweight or obese (35 million). That impact is being felt right now,” De Schutter said Tuesday in a videoconference from Geneva.
“Since the conclusion of NAFTA (linking the United States, Mexico and Canada), we’ve seen that investment by U.S. agro-food companies in Mexico has risen between 5-10 percent annually. (One) result of this is that Coca-Cola consumption, for example, by Mexican children doubled between 1992 and 2002,” De Schutter said.
This nutritional pattern is not unique to Mexico, but instead is the “result of a dietary transition characteristic of emerging economies,” De Schutter said.
Fruits and vegetables produced in Mexico “are being exported to high-value markets ... while Mexicans consume less nutritious diets consisting of processed foods with high saturated fat, salt and sugar content,” De Schutter said.
This has led to an increase in the incidence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer.
Mexico should try to remedy this situation, which amounts to the “cocalization of diets,” by working to “rebuild local food systems connecting producers and urban consumers,” De Schutter said.
That would entail increased revenue for small farmers and better “access to fresh foods” for Mexicans who live in cities, the U.N. expert said.
“I think Mexico has tremendously effective policies when it comes to supporting large farmers so they produce at competitive prices for large markets, but I think more emphasis should be placed on small producers, especially giving them more access to markets,” De Schutter said.
De Schutter presented a report on the right to food in Mexico – based on his fact-finding mission to that country between June 13-20, 2011 – to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council. EFE