What was needed was a transition from our present broken food system to one based on “sustainable nutrition”, suggested Tim Benton, professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds. He was speaking at the Annual Day of the British Nutrition Foundation in London last month.
“What we choose to eat has a very big impact on greenhouse gas emissions and if we go ahead with a business as usual scenario, by 2050 two degrees of global warming will come from the emissions of our agrifood sector,” said Benton. “So thinking about changing our diet now is incredibly important.”
Not only were today’s food supply chains contributing to the growing obesity and health crisis, through things like excessive meat consumption, Benton argued, they were hugely wasteful of food (20–30%). “On a global basis, Europe and North America throw away the equivalent of the total production of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
To make matters worse, we are also incredibly inefficient in the use of the food we produce, he added: “At the moment we produce enough calories in the world to feed over 11bn people.”
By 2050, the world needed to increase food production by a further 60–100% to meet global demand, said Benton. “Over the next 36 years the world would have to produce more food than it has ever produced in human history and that's quite alarming.”
Greater diversity of food production
He also called for greater diversity of food production. Currently, 60% of the world’s calories come from just three crops: maize, wheat and rice, while 80% comes from just nine.
“Nutritionally, that’s as bad as it is environmentally,” said Benton. “We could have people eating diets where the meat that they ate was more extensively reared; eating more fruit and vegetables, less starch, sugar and fat.”