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Pope Francis urges solidarity and concrete action in global nutrition challenge

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Pope Francis speaks during a session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, last Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Pope Francis has demanded a
In this photo provided by Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis (right) shakes hands with Spain's Queen Letizia during a session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, last Thursday.

Pope Francis has told politicians from around the world to view food and nutrition and the environment as global public issues at a time when nations are more tightly linked with each other than ever before.

"When solidarity is lacking in one country, it's felt around the world," the Pope told delegates from the 172 nations attending the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2).

He urged the delegates to make sure their pledges to assure food security to all citizens are put into concrete practice, saying that the right to a healthy diet was about dignity, not charitable handouts.

"Despite there being enough food for everyone, food issues are regularly subject to manipulated information, claims about national security, corruption, and 'teary-eyed' evocations of economic crisis," said Francis.

"That is the first challenge we need to overcome," he said, urging that the rights of the humans need to be embedded in all aid and development programmes.

The fight against hunger and undernutrition is being handicapped by "the priority of the market and the pre-eminence of profit, which have reduced food to a thing to be bought and sold and subject to speculation," the pontiff added.

voluntary principles

He also highlighted the need to care for the environment and protect the planet. "Humans may forgive, but nature does not," he said, continuing: "We must care for mother nature so that she does not respond with destruction," flagging the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Peru (COP20) and France (COP21) as opportunities for doing so.

The pontiff delivered his remarks in person to delegates from around the world attending ICN2 at FAO's headquarters in Rome.

Global leaders last Wednesday approved the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and Framework for Action, embracing voluntary principles aimed at addressing today's major nutrition challenges and identifying priorities for enhanced international cooperation on nutrition.

Among its priorities are to forge ways to tackle obesity, a growing global health problem even in lower-income countries, to combat micronutrient deficiencies that affect two billion people worldwide and assure access of all people to healthy diets required for their individual development.

"For the first time in history, humanity can say that misery is not fate and that hunger is completely avoidable," FAO Director-General JosÈ Graziano da Silva said while introducing the pontiff. "The presence of his Holiness here with us today reflects an ecumenical convergence on this point that is increasingly spreading among peoples of different latitudes, cultures, and points of view."

Francis has been an outspoken advocate for the poor, saying it is a "God-given right of everyone to have access to adequate food" and urging everyone to be more conscious of their "food choices", including waste, to end the "global scandal" of hunger.

Earlier this month, the pontiff wrote a letter to global leaders at the G-20 summit in Brisbane, citing malnutrition as the first of the problems they should seek to solve.

Queen Letizia of Spain, also speaking at ICN2, highlighted the "special importance" of women in ensuring family nutrition.

She also argued that in addition to the moral imperative of tackling hunger, there is an economic one: "Investing in better nutrition can raise productivity and economic growth, reduce health care costs, and promote education," she said.

The Queen also called on "multinational food and agricultural companies to join with international development agencies and governments in order to promote better nutrition".