Free trade and Mexico’s junk food epidemic

For several years now, transnational food companies have understood that their main growth markets are in the South. To increase their profits they need to “dig into the pyramid”, as one company puts it, meaning they need to develop and sell products targeted at the millions of the world’s poor. These people generally eat food from their own farms or informal markets selling locally-produced foods, and in which many of them earn their livelihood.

To get at these potential consumers, food companies are infiltrating, inundating and taking over traditional food distribution channels and replacing local foods with cheap, processed junk foods, often with the direct support of governments. Free trade and investment agreements have been critical to their success. The case of Mexico provides a stark and horrific picture of the consequences for people.d

In Mexico, poverty, hunger, obesity and disease go hand in hand. Mexicans are not only struggling to afford enough to eat; the food they eat is making them ill.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition.1 The study assessed Mexicans’ food security against what is known as the Latin American and Caribbean Food Security Scale (ELCSA).2 The results made it clear that these problems were far worse than had been acknowledged, as seen in the graphs and table below.

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