104 | North America and Europe (NAE) Report Rise of alternative food systems
Partly in response to the numerous concerns related to in­dustrialized agribusiness there has been a growing interest in "alternative" food systems. Some of these reject aspects of NAE AKST provided. Local food systems with their focus on their social and economic embeddedness can overcome high costs and reduce risk for farmers and consumers by adding value locally, thereby supporting rural development (Sage, 2003; Winter, 2003). Although there are many ben­efits attributed to locally-oriented food systems, these mod­els have also been criticized as benefiting primarily those who can choose based on education or income (Allen, 1999; Hinrichs and Kremer, 2002; Hinrichs, 2003).
     Conceptualizing the equity of food systems at different spatial scales generates different perspectives and responses. Projects based on regional identity (e.g., Tuscany) or brand­ing (e.g., organics, Slow Food) have been promoted as rural development alternatives in NAE (Barham, 2003; Murdoch and Miele, 2004). However, they may also serve the privi­leged at the expense of the poor (Allen, 1999), through the decreasing affordability of products—perhaps even mag­nifying existing unequal relations of consumption locally (Bellows and Hamm, 2001; Allen and Sachs, 1991). Fur­thermore a focus on the local may well direct attention from global-scale inequities surrounding issues of food security and material welfare, although it may reduce local commu­nities' (implicit) involvement as consumers in exploitative labor and environmental commodity chains. The local con­centration of production and consumption may also restrict opportunities to import Fair Trade goods, thus limiting mar­ket access for developing country growers.

3.3.6 Distancing consumers from production
The increasing emergence of vertical food chains (see Chap­ter 2) has increased spatial and social distancing between sectors in the food chain (Sumelius and Vesala, 2005). So­cial distancing has helped to lessen consumers' understand­ing of the production system and the food chain, thereby decreasing their ability to fully participate in a food system dominated by market logic. Issues of ethical, social and en­vironmental concern are typically shielded from consumer view and may only be revealed if there are dramatic and direct societal consequences. The environmental effects of conventional agriculture and their social implications tend to be spatially bounded (rather than atmospheric or global) and often are remote from the end consumer (Marsden et al., 1999). In these circumstances, price and convenience, which are still visible, have been the predominant determi­nant for consumers, while adverse social and environmental effects can be isolated from consumer view.

3.3.7 Nutritional consequences of NAE food systems
The most direct and tangible benefit of food is its role in enabling individuals to pursue active, healthy, productive lives as a consequence of adequate nutrition (MA, 2005). For these reasons access to adequate, safe food has been recognized as a basic human right. Decreased hunger and poverty and improved nutrition and human health are two of the Millennium Development Goals.
     Although the food insecurity and prevalence of under-


nourishment and hunger has been reduced worldwide, there were still 9 million undernourished people in industrialized countries and 28 million in countries in transition in 2001-2003 (FAO, 2006). These data include 21 million people in the Commonwealth of Independent States (7% of the popu­lation), 3 million people in eastern Europe (former socialist states within and without the EU) (4% of the population) and 0.1 in Baltic States (1% of the population).
     An increase in consumer purchasing power, progress in food production methods and changes in the marketing of food products have dramatically improved the food situa­tion in many countries of the European Union and in the USA. Food has been generally available, although some sec­tions of the population do not consume a sufficiently healthy diet. For example, the consumption of fruits and vegetables has declined in the US in the last 100 years. People on a low income spend a greater proportion of their income on food, but eat a diet of lower nutritional quality than those on a high income (European Commission, 2002a).
     The emerging challenges in relation to nutrition and health are thus different than those of some decades ago. North America and Europe are currently experiencing a high prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, such as can­cer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain allergies and osteoporosis. These are the result of the interaction of vari­ous genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors (including smoking, diet and a lack of physical activity). Numerous studies suggest nutrition is important in maintaining health and preventing many of these major diseases (Ferro-Luzzi and James, 1997).
     For the European Union, estimates have been made of the total burden of ill health, disability and premature death from all causes experienced by the population and the factors most responsible for this disease burden (Eu­ropean Commission, 2002b). Of a broad range of causes, diet-related factors are believed to be responsible for nearly 10%  of the total disease burden—including overweight (3.7%), low fruit and vegetable consumption (3.5%) and high  saturated  fat  consumption  (1.1%).   Together  with lack of physical exercise (1.4%), these factors account for a greater proportion of ill health than tobacco smoking (9.0%).
     In recent years, overweight and obesity have been grow­ing at a very fast rate. Today obesity represents a real threat to the public health of certain groups in North America and Europe, as shown by data from IOTF and OECD (Tables 3-10 and 3-11). A particular concern is the rapid rise in childhood obesity (Figure 3-13). In the next 5 to  10 years obesity in the European Union will probably reach the high level of prevalence in the United States today, where one third of people are esti­mated to be obese and one third to be overweight. In many countries there is a 10-15 year lag behind the USA, but nev­ertheless European countries are narrowing this gap (Figure 3-13).

3.4 Impacts of NAE AKST through International Trade
NAE accounts for more than a quarter of global trade in agricultural products. The European Union and the United