A series by the African Centre for Biodiversity

See below for factsheets 6-9

Click here for factsheets 1-5

Pour lire les fiches en français, cliquez ici

In this 6th factsheet in the series on ultra-processed food (UPF) in Africa, we briefly discuss how UPF is impacting ecological health and functioning, and driving the interconnected biodiversity, climate, and pollution crises on the continent. 

Over the last two decades, food systems have undergone massive transformations. It is well documented that increasingly globalised food supply chains are one of the leading threats to the health and functioning of ecological systems. Increased production and consumption of UPF have played a massive role in driving the industrial and technological change across the agri-food industry, including the expansion and growing market and political power of transnational food and beverage corporations, to meet the ever-expanding global sourcing and production networks. UPF’s high availability, affordability and accessibility, hyper-palatability, extended shelf life, and intense marketing, drive their overconsumption, increasing their impacts on human health and the health of the planet.  

The UPF food supply chain requires large amounts of energy and land, causing substantial greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution. This cuts across the industrial production, processing, packaging, and distribution at all stages concerning the preparation of the many ingredients used exclusively for UPF. 

Research on the environmental impacts of UPF production, consumption, and disposal in Africa is sorely lacking. In general, research has focused on the effects of the commodity crops used for their production, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar. Environmental considerations of foods and diets must include the overall impact of UPF from farm to fork, including all stages of farming, processing, packaging, and distribution. 

There is a desperate need to transform global food systems to halt the rise of UPF production, reduce their consumption and minimise social and ecological harms. There must be a multilateral response to this growing global problem and a paradigm shift in food production and consumption. Africa, in particular, can ensure a holistic, and transformative future, which integrates social, political, and ecological implications into its vision. 

Read factsheet 6 here.

Rising UPF consumption in Africa will drive agricultural biodiversity loss further

In this 7th factsheet in the series on ultra-processed food (UPF) in Africa, we dive into how UPF production and consumption are contributing to the decline in agricultural biodiversity, a crucial component of biodiversity.

Agricultural landscapes are becoming increasingly homogenous, at a genetic and species level, due to the intensive use of cheap, standardised ingredients needed in industrial processing. The production of UPF forms part of an agricultural and food system that is systematically eroding essential agricultural biodiversity necessary for a resilient and sustainable food supply. As a result, we are witnessing a systematic erasure of dietary and agricultural diversity, livelihood and nutritional security, and the associated knowledge needed to maintain, develop, and conserve vital agricultural biodiversity.

The very rapid rise of UPF in human diets will continue to place pressure on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption. More research is urgently required to understand the detrimental impacts of UPF on agricultural biodiversity along the UPF life cycle, particularly in Africa. This includes understanding the impact of linked industries, such as producing their components/ingredients and packaging materials.

Countries need to address rising dietary-related diseases associated with rising UPF consumption, and national dietary and nutrition guidelines. Related policies must recognise the interdependence between diets, health and nutrition, and the social and environmental sustainability of the food system. Linked to this is the need for global food systems, biodiversity and climate change fora to give urgent attention to the destruction of agricultural biodiversity caused by UPF and to craft policies and catalyse actions designed to slow down in the short term and reverse in the longer term, these intersecting crises. 

Read factsheet 7 here.

Factsheet 6

Factsheet 7

A malnourished food system: Harmful impacts of ultra-processed food consumption on health and nutrition in Africa

In this 8th factsheet in the series, we focus on the health impacts of ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption in Africa. There are clear and direct associations between increased UPF consumption and an increase in a range of diet- and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

In Africa, shifting dietary patterns are linked to the rising triple burden of malnutrition, i.e., the coexistence of overnutrition, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies – leading to diet-related NCDs. With UPFs making up a greater proportion of diets due to various factors, including increasing availability, accessibility, and relative affordability, UPFs are driving and deepening the triple burden of malnutrition. 

The unique health risks presented by UPF go beyond the specific nutrients, such as sugar, salt and trans-fats – present in large quantities – and extend to the effects of the excessive processing these foods are subjected to, and the industrial additives and packaging materials used. These all have a range of severe impacts on human health. Furthermore, the convenience, hyper-palatability, poor stability, pervasive marketing and addictive design of ultra-processed food beverages (UPFB) result in their overconsumption, compounding these risks. 

Increased UPFB intake is linked to a multitude of health risks, including excess weight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney and liver diseases, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, ischemic heart disease, cancers, and all-cause mortality, among others. The prevalence of preventable NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes are becoming the main cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the number of people in Africa who are living with diabetes is expected to reach 47 million by 2045, up from 19 million in 2019. This puts excessive strain on under-resourced and overburdened health systems. 

As highlighted in earlier factsheets, the UPFB industry is increasingly targeting low-income countries and communities. This creates the conditions for persistent and perpetual food and nutritional deprivation, and a cycle of NCDs, with long-term health, socio-economic and societal impacts – with generational implications. Yet, the relationship between UPF, malnutrition and NCDs is failing to get the urgent policy attention it demands. Food and nutrition policies on the continent must address UPF consumption by creating and enforcing mandatory measures to bring the unrelenting and aggressive influence of the UPF industry in food environments and policies under control. With the compounding impacts of pervasive and persistent hunger and malnutrition in Africa, the hidden culprit, UPFB, needs to be particularly and urgently addressed to prevent worsening conditions. 

Click here to read the factsheet.

Shortcomings of current UPF regulatory approaches: Time to phase out UPF to attain a just agroecological future

In this 9th factsheet in the series on ultra-processed food (UPF) in Africa, we discuss the current approaches to regulate the UPF industry by outlining the limitations of this approach and underscoring that these are only stop-gap measures.

Tackling UPF consumption has primarily been in the arena of health and nutrition policies and dietary guidelines, linked to nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally, and in Africa in particular. The main types of interventions include fiscal measures (primarily taxes); regulations to reduce or ban the marketing of UPFs, especially to children; front-of-package (FOP) labelling to warn consumers; limits on certain ingredients permitted in processed foods; and regulations controlling access to and promotion of UPFs in schools. 

Overwhelming attention has been on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), which is only one – albeit significant – element of the UPF industry. This reflects the main regulatory approach, namely, the targeting of nutrients such as salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. While these are important steps to begin to address the unnecessary harms of UPF consumption, they fail to consider the scope and multidimensionality, the uniqueness of UPF, and their unique role in driving the triple burden of malnutrition and associated NCDs. The narrow focus on certain nutrients, in particular salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats does not address the particular health impacts of the series of industrial processing involved in the formulation of UPFs and fails to address the grave health and environmental implications throughout the lifecycle of products, including their associated industries. 

Food and nutritional policies on the African continent remain mostly silent on UPF. Furthermore, they tend to overlook and undermine the role of local farmers, traditional supply chains, and retailers in providing affordable, local, healthy, and nutritious foods, being skewed in favour of large-scale agribusiness, distribution networks, and supermarket chains. On the other hand, current policy incentives on the African continent regarding food prices, access, employment, trade, and industrialisation facilitate the flooding of abundant, readily available, cheap, poor-quality, and nutritionally void food into rural and urban areas, while also dislocating livelihoods that secure food provision. 

The interdependence between ecological and human health must be anchored in food and nutrition and other cross-sector policies dealing with food system transitions. We argue that UPF does not fit within a just agroecological future and therefore must be phased out entirely. 

Read the factsheet here.

Read Factsheets 1-5 here.