A new report by leading food and sustainability scientists calls for Europe to take a new approach on food security, prioritizing health and sustainability in research and using a holistic view when making policy.
The report has been jointly chaired by Peter Raspor, professor of food science and technology at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and Rudy Rabbinge, professor of sustainable development and systems innovation at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
The European food systems in a changing world "Forward Look" report is an in-depth analysis by scientists of critical research areas that can support and increase the competitiveness of the European food system. A food system includes all the processes involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. It is published today by the European Science Foundation and the European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST).
Europe faces a complex web of changes and challenges to feed a population of 500 million people. Increasing fuel costs, climate change, shifting dietary habits, shortage of resources, such as soil and water, and agriculture's economic viability are just a few factors influencing food supplies.
The report shows new perspectives and opportunities for research, and explores the future of food and food systems. It finds that research needs to be geared towards health, particularly prevention of diseases that are related to lifestyle and demographic changes, and sustainability, including the effects of global warming and of the use of biomass for energy or fuel production.
The report concludes that a productive, more environmentally-friendly, and internationally more acceptable European food system is possible:
"The European food system urgently needs upgrading and strengthening, both in the constituent parts and the system as a whole," said Professor Peter Raspor, co-chair of the Forward Look evaluation. "We recommend a scenario-based approach that analyses the implications of policy and management options within a set of coherent, internally-consistent storylines of credible futures at the European scale."
The rapidly-growing awareness of issues such as climate change and shifts in energy policy are raising fundamental concerns about Europe's food security in relation to other needs of society. Until now, research has been concentrated on technical and policy issues for agriculture, fisheries and feed/ food but this has generally been limited to specific aspects of food system activities rather than considering a scenario-based approach over a longer timescale respecting specifities of food supply chains.
Professor Rudy Rabbinge continues: "These scenarios take a 25 to 40 year perspective, as many key uncertainties are likely to play out strongly over the coming decades. Responding to these uncertainties today will reduce future impacts and costs substantially."
The following research priorities are identified for national and European agencies:
The report is available online http://www.esf.org/publications
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