Industry must face critical global food issues

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: World population

The EU is failing to take sufficient regard for sound science when making food policy decisions, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor...

The EU is failing to take sufficient regard for sound science when making food policy decisions, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor professor John Beddington has claimed.

Speaking at the Food and Drink Federation president’s dinner last week, Beddington expressed serious concerns about developments. “There are some silly things that are happening in Europe,” he said.

“The trouble is there is no-one to talk to; there is no-one I can phone up.” In complete contrast, making contact with his opposite numbers in the US was easy, he added.

Beddington warned that important decisions needed to be taken regarding food security in view of the “perfect storm” of worldwide population growth, increasing wealth and therefore rising demand in South Asia and parts of South America, shortages of fresh water supplies and global warming.

He noted that global food reserves were at their lowest since 1970 - representing 14% of annual consumption, sufficient for 40 days. Price volatility, similar to that experienced last year, would become the norm, he added. And the problems of feeding the world’s poor were set to increase.

Beddington went on to suggest that genetically modified (GM) food - though not the sole answer to increasing the world’s food supply by the 50% needed by 2030 to meet demand - would be part of the solution. “There are some very hard choices for an industry like this to say how we can deal with it,” he said.

“GM may provide a partial answer to that - it’s not the silver bullet - but to say ‘no, we will never use it’ seems to me to present real difficulties in what is essentially a very difficult problem.” He added that the same was true for nanotechnology.

“How can a future global population of 9bn people [predicted by 2050] all be fed healthily and sustainably?” he asked. “The food industry - and I include fisheries and agriculture - has got to address these questions.”

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