The Dutch have the highest quality, most affordable food in the world while the UK ranks among the worst for affordability in Western Europe, according to Oxfam’s new global food index.
Oxfam’s “Good Enough to Eat” report compared 125 countries. It looked at whether people have enough to eat based on undernourishment and underweight children; food affordability by examining food prices compared to other goods and services; whether food is good quality; and finally it looked at possible unhealthy outcomes like diabetes and obesity.
Netherlands top, despite obesity rates
The research revealed that the Netherlands scored the best overall with six points closely followed by France and Switzerland with eight, and Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden with 10 points.
These top scorers ranked for their lack of malnutrition and undernourishment and access to safe water. According to the report the Netherlands took to top spot thanks to its relatively low food prices and diabetes levels, and better nutritional diversity compared to its European counterparts.
Deborah Hardoon, senior researcher at Oxfam, told FoodNavigator that the Netherlands got the fundamentals right. However, she said that despite this the Netherlands scores “worringly high” in terms of food for health, with almost 19% of its population having a body mass index over 30. This was also the case with other countries that placed well overall.
Czech Republic was the worst country for obesity in Europe, with 33% of its population recorded as obese.
Expensive food, poor diet
According to the report the UK is among the worst performers in Western Europe for food affordability, sharing 20th position with Cyprus. “This is obviously going to have become very difficult given the current economic climate,” Hardoon said.
She said that as the situation stands now wages and/or benefits cannot keep up with food prices and warned that the UK government must take an immediate look at welfare reforms in order to ensure that people are not in the position of having to choose between heating and food.
According to The Trussell Trust, the Christian organisation behind the country’s largest network of food banks, in the UK emergency food banks fed 346,992 people in 2012-13. In April last year it reported a 170% rise in numbers turning to the service in the previous 12 months. The charity said: "Rising cost of living, static incomes, changes to benefits, underemployment and unemployment have meant increasing numbers of people in the UK have hit a crisis that forces them to go hungry."
Iceland hot on food quality
The index nominated Iceland as the best country in terms of food quality. This covered essentials such as access to clean water for which the country scored highly, but also diversity of diet. Hardoon said that the Icelandic diet tended to include a range of foods such as meat, fish and cheeses as opposed to just “stodge” of carbohydrates and starches. She said however things like vegetables were not tracked by the index.
The only non-European country to make it into the top 20 was Australia, squeezing in at eight. The US, Brazil, Canada, Japan and New Zealand all fell outside of this upper echelon. The bottom 30 countries overall were almost entirely dominated by African countries save for the inclusion of Laos, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Hardoon said that Oxfam wanted to take a step back and look at food from a world perspective since more and more food markets are global, meaning actions and policies in one country affect people's consumption elsewhere.
She also said that this report was an attempt to look at food from a consumer’s perspective in contrast to the organisation’s other work which often focusses on supporting small holder agriculture.