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The dilemma of eating locally and hurting others globally | 

Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit:  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Want to change the world? Many tell you to start at the grocery story…or with your local farmers market.

Eat less meat, go organic, eat local and eat healthier. Such recommendations can be heard just about anywhere and they often end with a call to demand support for American farmers, or politically, renewal of the US Farm Bill. The argument sounds sensible on a quick glance and certainly so from a US-centric, self-serving perspective. But it may not be so sensible and good.

Modern food production and distribution systems are today international in scope and affect almost everyone, everywhere – and in many ways that may surprise you.

As the same time, eating local – locavores – has increasingly become a popular trend in the United States. Farm-to-table restaurants are popping up touting that they source all their products locally. The appeal is that consumers can get fresh (often organic) produce at nearly the same cost while supporting local businesses and reducing the massive carbon footprint produced by shipping food across the United States.

The trend has come with wider public recognition of the downside of industrial food production: The antibiotics used for livestock protect against disease (and boosts production) but this also builds drug resistance that has negative ramifications for people’s health. The high overall consumption of meat hurts the environment – from the methane produced by cows to the amount of land and water needed to care for them. Policies by governments and purchases by consumers have an impact on farmers from Arkansas to Haiti to the Horn of Africa.

The choice between eating cheap supermarket food versus being a sustainable locavore is not really as simple as it looks, at least if your goal is to make the world a better place. Continue reading

Wordy word AIDS Day | 

Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

No, that’s not a typo.

I’ve decided to mark this 30th anniversary of the recognized beginning of the pandemic as Wordy AIDS Day rather than use its official name, World AIDS Day, because most of what the international community is doing is saying they want to continue the fight against AIDS even as they retreat.

As Sarah Boseley of The Guardian writes, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is threatening to ‘collapse’ thanks to governments reneging on their promised donations. The bottom line here is that there is insufficient funding to meet the existing challenge while politicians like Sec. of State Hillary Clinton proclaim we are on the verge of an “AIDS-free generation.” Says Boseley:

If this were not so deadly serious it would be absurd. As Clinton declares the end of AIDS is nigh with one massive last push, the donor governments, mostly in Europe, sit on their wallets. HIV/AIDS has gone out of favour.

It needs to be said that there has been progress, with a remarkable scale-up in getting people on treatment (about 40 percent of those who need the drugs in Africa) and 20-25 percent reductions in mortality.

Recent scientific studies have shown that getting people on anti-HIV drugs prevents transmission of the virus so it is possible, in theory anyway, to halt the pandemic by getting everyone infected on treatment.

Yet even as we may be at a beneficial ‘tipping point’ in the fight against AIDS, the world community’s commitment to the fight is flagging. Funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS dropped by 10 percent last year. IRIN called it a Deadly Funding Crisis.

Two old-time warriors in the fight ask, on CNN, if what we should be celebrating is Another 30 Years of AIDS?

One of the presumed bright spots in this gloomy landscape was celebrated today with President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. plans to “win this fight’ and has increased its global commitment to get anti-HIV drugs to two million more people by 2013.

Obama’s announcement was webcast by the ONE Campaign with commentary from a slew of other bigwigs like Bono, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Obama Administration’s new commitment to the global fight will be good news if it actually happens. Little noticed was the fine print that said this would be accomplished not by donating more money but by “increasing efficiency.” Only the domestic HIV/AIDS needs got actual new money, $50 million.

Here are some other worthy links for this day, Wordy AIDS Day:

Alanna Shaikh at UN Dispatch: The End of the Beginning of the End of AIDS?

ONE’s Erin Hohlfelder: Act V, The End of AIDS

George W Bush in Wall Street Journal: No Retreat in the Fight Against AIDS

NPR: What a lack of funding could mean for Africa

The Independent: Victory is in sight but cuts in funding could spoil it all

Simon Bland of Global Fund: Yes, we’re alive but progress in peril

Dichotomy alert: AIDS prevention vs treatment debate re-emerges | 

Today is the day after World AIDS Day. Things are pretty much the same.

Flickr, Benny Sølz.

Ruminating on the crazed repetitiveness yesterday of the news stories for this issue du jour, I felt a slight irritation crawling up from the lizard portion of my brain. Something in the torrent of AIDS stories yesterday nagged at me.

What was it? Like a bad aftertaste, or a fly buzzing around my head.

Whoa. It was the old AIDS treatment versus prevention debate. What some call the ugly dichotomy (which, by the way, only seems to apply to poor countries) is re-emerging. People are beginning to say we need to shift away from treatment in favor of prevention.

Oh no, here we go again … Continue reading

Obama’s global health diarist gets his goat | 

Is Obama’s $63 billion Global Health Initiative working?

Wikimedia

Dr. Zeke Emanuel

That’s the title of one of the initial posts in “Africa Diaries” a series of reports to come by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother to President Obama’s former chief of staff (and now Chicago mayoral wannabe) Rahm Emanuel.

Dr. Emanuel is a bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health and also a special adviser on health issues to the Obama Administration. He’s doing a series of global health articles for The New Republic magazine based on a recent trip he made to Senegal, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Emanuel begins his diary:

Is funding for global health a never-ending waste of money in which billions are spent but nothing gets better? Or are we being selfish and grossly unethical, because we are unwilling to spend a few hundred dollars more per year in order to save a life of a poor person half way around the world?

Gee, those are tough questions. I’m going to guess no and yes. Continue reading