South Pacific islands set to ban foreign 'junk' food to boost health

Noodles (above), rice, tinned fish and biscuits are out, in favour of locally-sourced fish, crabs, shellfish, taro, yams, paw paw and pineapple.
Noodles (above), rice, tinned fish and biscuits are out, in favour of locally-sourced fish, crabs, shellfish, taro, yams, paw paw and pineapple.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - A group of islands in the South Pacific is set to ban foreign food - particularly Western junk food - in an effort to ward off potential health problems among islanders.

It plans to go entirely organic by 2020 and has already ordered tourism bungalows to serve guests only locally-sourced, organic produce.

Torba province, part of Vanuatu, aims to impose restrictions on the import of foreign foodstuffs and instead take advantage of its productive agricultural land and rich natural resources, according to a report in the Guardian.

Located in the northern part of Vanuatu, Torba is often described as the “forgotten province” and the majority of its 10,000 people are subsistence farmers.

Father Luc Dini, a community leader and head of the local tourism council, says a ban on foreign food imports would improve the health and wellbeing of islanders.

“At the moment we have an infiltration of junk food from overseas,” he told the Guardian.

“It is easy to boil noodles or rice, but they have almost no nutritional value and there is no need to eat imported food when we have so much local food grown organically on our islands.”

Dini said his province had an abundance of locally grown or sourced food to sustain its population including fish, crabs, shellfish, taro, yams, paw paw and pineapple.

The most popular imported foods consumed in Torba were rice, sweets, tinned fish and biscuits, he said.

“We are Vanuatu’s most isolated province and so far our health has stayed pretty good because of that, but we want to continue to be healthy,” he said.

“In other provinces that have adopted Western diets, you see pretty young girls but when they smile they have rotten teeth, because the sugar has broken down their teeth. We don’t want that to happen here and we don’t want to develop the illnesses that come with a Western junk food diet.”

With immediate effect and with the backing of local chiefs, Dini has ordered tourism bungalows to serve guests only locally grown, organic food, with a plan to introduce legislation within the next two years banning the importation of all foreign food. Torba aims to be Vanuatu’s first organic province by the year 2020, said the Guardian.

Dini said the central government in Port Vila was supportive of his plan and keen to observe how the ban would be tolerated by locals and visitors.

Whether to include alcohol imports was yet to be decided but there were a number of local kava bars that may be able to meet that demand.

“If you really want to live on a paradise of your own, then you should make do with what you have and try and live with nature,” he said.