Pile of empty Coke bottles

Empty Coca-Cola bottles. Source: Eco Chunk

On a recent online forum, a friend commented on the curiously idealistic perspectives that advocates hold about food as compared to agribusiness. Often, you’ll hear health advocates, environmental conservationists, an animal advocates talk about “individual food choices”and the drop-in-the-bucket impact they have to eventually, someday move modern society into a more sustainable future. Conversely, as this friend explained, agribusiness interests “most certainly do not see global consumption patterns as a matter of individual consumer choice and have a very deliberate agenda to reshape consumption patterns in the global south.”

Among the articles he posted, Mexico: Public Health, Rising Obesity and the NAFTA Effect, explained how global economics, health, and environmental sustainability intersect to create the current conditions in Mexico:

“trade liberalization also plays a huge role in what food is accessible in developing countries. After NAFTA was implemented in 1994, the number of unhealthy food products from the United States to Mexico increased substantially. A spike also took place in the amount of raw soy and corn imports: two products used to make highly processed foods and feed livestock.

In 2011, Mexicans consumed 172 liters per capita of Coke, compared to the 1991 pre-NAFTA level of 69 liters per capita. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the consumption of animal fat in Mexico increased from about 34.7 grams per capita per day in 1991 to 46.9 grams per capita per day in 2009. A recent study linked these and other resulting dietary changes with an unsettlingly high 12 percent increase in obesity in Mexico between 2000 and 2006. Though obviously an unintended consequence of NAFTA, this shows that trade can actually impact public health.

The article is an important read, especially since as consumers, we rarely know the full picture of what goes into our food—including the trade agreements, subsidies, and short- and long-term health effects.