Report opposes presumptive bias against tech advances in food industry

Vidya ram London | Updated on January 25, 2011 Published on January 25, 2011

The report provides a stark assessment of the sustainability of the global food system as it exists today and its ability to cater to the changing world.

Genetic modification, cloning and other new technologies in the food industry should no longer be rejected a priori or on ethical grounds, a major international study concluded on Monday.

Policy options should not simply be ruled out as the global food system consumes the world's natural resources at an “unsustainable rate” failing the world's poorest, said the study ‘The Future of Food and Farming', headed by the British government's chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington, drawing on the research of over 400 experts from 35 countries across the world.

The report provides a stark assessment of the sustainability of the global food system as it exists today and its ability to cater to the changing world. These include a rise in the global population from around 7 billion currently to 9 billion by 2050, demands for a more varied high quality diet from new markets, increasing competition for land and water and of course climate change.

“Together they constitute a major threat...that requires a strategic reappraisal of how the world is fed,” says the report.

The report comes amid growing concern for the rising cost of food across the globe. Food prices hit a record high in December, rising 4 per cent from the month before, said the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation food earlier this month. Sugar and oil were the biggest drivers of the rise.

“The case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling,” said Sir John.

Among the solutions, further investment into modern technologies is key, as well as a new approach to appraising them. Rather than merely relying on precautionary principles, analysis should include the potential costs of not using certain technologies.

Food wastage

The report also calls for a change in policy-making, which it says has tended to view food policy in isolation from others such as energy, water supply and land use. Containing demand for the most resource-intensive types of food should be a priority, the report concludes. Another major area identified by the report is reducing the wastage of food.

As much as 30 per cent of food grown worldwide is lost or wasted before reaching the consumer – a figure that could be substantially reduced if there is high-level international political support, concludes the report. “Halving the total amount of food waste by 2050 is considered to be a realistic target.”

Subsidy and effects

The report is critical of food production subsidies in high income countries warning that they are “harmful to global food security.”

“The current trend to reduce them should be accelerated to encourage the self sustaining improvements in productivity which are necessary to meet future increase in demand sustainability.”

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Published on January 25, 2011
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