The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission are concerned about the challenges to regional food security and accessing safe and nutritious food during, and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Population-based COVID-19 control measures are creating environments conducive to significant dietary shifts away from fresh produce towards non-perishable, energy-dense, nutrient-poor, processed and ultra-processed foods high in fats, salt, and sugars.
The ‘Big Food’ industry is thriving, including fast food chains and quick-service restaurants which are adapting rapidly in order to meet growing demands for non-perishables and instant ‘lockdown’ meals.
The HCC and the OECS are saying that “while acknowledging the potential contribution and value of the private sector, we must proceed with caution in light of increasing concerns that food and beverage industry giants may exploit current vulnerabilities to promote non-perishable, energy-dense, nutrient-poor, processed and ultra-processed foods high in fats, salt, and sugars”.
The loss of nutritious meals by tens of thousands of children who benefit from national school meals programmes is another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Caribbean, a region already on a dangerous trajectory towards crisis levels of overweight and obesity.
The HCC and the OECS say ‘there is an urgent short-term and long-term imperative to develop and strengthen healthy, resilient, and sustainable regional food systems through increased domestic production and trade’.