Scientific roadmap needed to tackle food insecurity

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food security

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said it s to publish a list of priorities to tackle the challenges of delivering sustainable food security and the scientific advances needed to overcome them.

The BBSRC, a UK funding agency for research in the life sciences which is sponsored by Government, said it will develop the priorities that need to be addressed into a strategic roadmap, which will be put out to consultation in the spring.

The agency held a summit earlier this month with scientists, food manufactures, retailers, farmers, policymakers and funders to identify the challenges to food security.

A BBSRC spokeswoman told FoodNavigator.com that it would not reveal the outcome of the summit ahead of the consultation document, or comment on the important role that food manufacturers can play.

However, one of the issues it highlighted was the need to reinforce the “innovation pipeline that translates the UK’s world class agricultural and food science into processes and products that meet industry and consumer needs”​.

The BBSRC also said that grain stores across the world must be sufficient to protect against wild price volatility and speculation – particularly in poorer countries – as one serious shock to the global harvest could create serious food shortages.

It added that basic science, studying plants, animals and nutrition, offers the potential for food production increases but this would require the identification of where gains are most readily and sustainably achievable.

Food manufacturers have faced soaring commodity costs recently, as prices for key raw materials such as corn and wheat reach unprecedented figures, putting intense pressure on company balance sheets.

At the same time, with an inexorably growing population, global harvests threatened by climate change, the threat of exotic and endemic animal disease and a global economic downturn disrupting the flow of trade, the world faces a growing food security crisis, according to the BBSRC.

Prof Janet Allen, BBSRC director of research, said that the scientific challenges in ensuring secure harvests and adequate food supplies were considerable but the list would show how experts in this field believe they should be tackled.

She added: "Global food security depends on many factors but ultimately on growing enough high quality food with appropriate nutritional value and which can be safely delivered to the consumer.

“BBSRC believes that the point has been reached where the threat to global sustainable food security requires action.

"There is a lot of effort going into food security studies and research and a diverse range of organisations involved. BBSRC is aiming to bring these activities together and to work with partners to look at the full food security picture."

Green revolution

Last week Achim Steiner, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director, called for a “green revolution”​ to prevent a food crisis.

His comments came as a UNEP study concluded that a change was needed in the way food is produced, handled and disposed of in order to feed the world's rising population and protect the environment.

It said that the factors blamed for the current food crisis - drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks - may worsen substantially in the coming decades unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems.

Related topics: Science, Sustainability

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