European nations top for nutritious, plentiful and healthy food, Oxfam says

US, China and Japan fail to make top 20 in Oxfam evaluation of how countries fare at providing nutritious, cheap and plentiful food

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:37am

The Netherlands nudged past France and Switzerland as the country with the most nutritious, plentiful and healthy food, while the United States and Japan failed to make it into the top 20, a new ranking released by Oxfam showed.

Chad came in last on the list of 125 nations, behind Ethiopia and Angola, in the food index released on Tuesday by the international development organisation.

"The Netherlands have created a good market that enables people to get enough to eat. Prices are relatively low and stable and the type of food people are eating is balanced," said Deborah Hardoon, a senior researcher at Oxfam who compiled the results.

"They've got the fundamentals right and in a way that is better than most other countries."

Oxfam ranked the nations on the availability, quality and affordability of food and dietary health. It also looked at the percentage of underweight children, food diversity and access to clean water, as well as negative health outcomes such as obesity and diabetes.

European countries dominated the top of the ranking but Australia squeezed into the top 12, tying with Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg at No 8. China was mid-table, ranked 57th.

Britain failed to make the top 10, tying for the 13th spot, because of the volatility of its food prices compared to other goods, which Oxfam said was on a level with Peru (51), Malta (33) and Kyrgyzstan (65).

African nations, along with Laos (112), Bangladesh (102), Pakistan (97) and India (97), were predominant in the bottom 30 countries.

Although the United States has the most affordable and good quality food, high levels of obesity and diabetes pushed the nation into 21st place in the ranking, tying with Japan, which scored poorly on the relative price of food compared to other goods.

The Netherlands got top marks for its low food prices and diabetes levels, while Chad had the worst score for the cost of food in the country and the prevalence of underweight children - 34 per cent. The only countries where food is more expensive are Guinea and the Gambia, which were both at the lower end of the ranking.

Burundi (119), Yemen (121), Madagascar (122) and India have the worst rates of nutrition and the most underweight children, according to Oxfam.

Oxfam said the latest figures showed 840 million people went hungry every day, despite there being enough food. It called for changes in the way food is produced and distributed around the world.

It said the causes of hunger included a lack of investment in infrastructure in developing nations and in small-scale agriculture and security, as well as prohibitive trading agreements, biofuel targets that divert crops from food to fuel and the impact of climate change.

Research suggests that climate change could raise the number of people at risk of hunger by 20 to 50 per cent by 2050, according to the group.

"This index quite clearly indicates that despite the fact of there being enough food in the world, we are still not able to feed everybody in all the countries around the world," Hardoon said. "If we had a more equal distribution of wealth and resources, and particularly food, this wouldn't be a problem."

Oxfam compiled the data between October and December using the latest information from the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, the International Labour Organisation and other global groups.

The index provides a snapshot based on the relative differences in various countries. But Hardoon said it was not the comprehensive picture of any one nation.