Guy Poppy, professor of ecology in biological sciences at the University of Southampton and chief scientific adviser for the Food Standards Agency, said the current food system was making people and the planet sick. He described how the increasing urgency to transform the food system had led to the development and funding of a new UK-wide research programme linking researchers to the private, public and third sectors. He argued that research could not only transform the UK food system but provide a case-study for transforming food systems across the world.
Also speaking at the conference - ‘Healthier People on a Healthier Planet – the perfect outcome for a transformed food system’ - Dr John Gilliland of Devenish Nutrition explained work was underway to reduce the environmental footprint of ruminants. He is working in partnership with the University College Dublin Institute of Food and Health to deliver carbon neutral beef and lamb production by 2025.
Gilliland highlighted that, while beef and lamb production was often in the media spotlight, ruminants could convert grass and other roughage indigestible for humans into meat and milk to provide important nutrients for humans as part of a balanced diet. He described how work on the Devenish research farm in Ireland showed innovative farming techniques could deliver reductions in the environmental impact of ruminant food production.
Meanwhile, Judith Batchelar, independent advisor, stressed the challenge the world faced was to improve planetary health and human health simultaneously. She emphasised the complexity of defining the details of a diet that was good for human consumption as well as the planet.
Shifting to diets containing more fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, beans and other pulses was likely to have both environmental and health benefits compared to current average diets, argued Dr Simon Steenson, nutrition scientist at BNF. He presented findings from the BNF's review paper, ‘Healthier and more sustainable diets: what changes are needed in high-income countries?’.
But, he stressed that inclusion of moderate amounts of meat, fish, eggs, milk, and dairy foods still has an important role in a healthy and sustainable diet, providing essential micro-nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12.
BNF director general professor Judy Buttriss said nutrition should be central to discussions about how to improve diets and food systems, alongside considerations such as affordability and cultural acceptability for different groups of people. This is a view she highlighted previously in an opinion piece written for Food Manufacture.
“While there is a growing focus on alternative dietary protein sources, we must look beyond protein and also focus on the package of essential nutrients that accompany protein in commonly consumed protein sources, such as zinc and iron in meat, and calcium, iodine and riboflavin in milk,” she said.
"Implementation of emerging and future innovations is needed within the food system to help reduce the environmental impact of food production and food consumption. In tandem with this, routine monitoring is essential of the nutritional quality of foods and diets that result from this transition. During our annual day conference, we heard from a range of experts who are working on innovations to transform the food system for a healthier and more sustainable future.”