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Europe: IFAJ delegates discuss the challenges for a sustainable food chain
Panel contributors included UK Champion for Global Food Security, Professor Tim Benton; Diana Spellman, MD of procurement agency, Partners in Purchasing; Dr Adam Staines, Joint Head of Agriculture and Food Security at BBSRC; Calum Murray, Lead Technologist in Sustainable Agriculture and Food at Innovate UK (Technology Strategy Board); Duncan Sinclair, Agriculture Manager at Waitrose; and LEAF Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond. In very focused contributions they outlined the challenges facing society in terms of population growth, obesity, food wastage and climate change and presented some of the work underway to address these issues.
Estimates of a 35% increase in global population by 2050 and a potential 60% or more increase in demand for food were quoted. To meet this demand would require production of more food over the next 36 years than has ever been produced to date. The environmental costs of food production are substantial and with an emphasis on sustainability, increased production must be achieved in ways that place less pressure on the environment so that we preserve the capacity of the land for food production in the future.
The need to reduce waste was mentioned frequently and one example quoted, that 30% of viable food was said to be discarded as waste in London in 2010, highlighted the issue. Delegates were also told that over-consumption is now associated with more than one in five deaths globally, which is creating an enormous burden on public health systems. A key message from the meeting was that demand for food is not fixed and that linking food, the environment and public health suggests drivers for changes in diet: current calorific production could already feed an extra 4.5million people if we produced and ate less meat. A move in this direction, together with waste reduction, including cutting over-consumption (the world currently has over 1 billion over-weight people), could already go a long way to feeding a large number of extra mouths.
The challenges facing the UK Food Security Research Strategy include the requirement for more energy, more food and more water. Innovative solutions are being researched and developed by business enterprise, with funding assistance from the UK government, encompassing crop protection and disease control approaches, food processing efficiencies, new production technologies and engineering solutions. Innovation and change at farmer level too is constantly encouraged to move the industry towards a more sustainable food supply in the future.
It is clear that the solutions must be considered and introduced on a global scale and speakers anticipate that a global catalyst will be needed to make the necessary changes happen. The exciting and innovative research work being undertaken at many levels in the UK’s centres of excellence to address these global challenges will contribute to the solutions the world needs.
Market Development Manager
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