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Future of food

A new report from the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) is calling for urgent action on food and nutrition security[1]. A team of scientists from 130 science academies across Europe undertook a two-year, extensive analysis on the future of food, nutrition, agriculture and health and concluded that Europe will need to change its diet in the future to address climate change and health.

Food consumption will need to change to improve consumer health:

• A decrease in the consumption of animal protein could be important for both health and the environment.

• Policy-makers should tackle the perverse price incentives to consume high-calorie diets and introduce new incentives for affordable nutrition.

• More clarity is needed about how to measure sustainability related to consumption of healthy diets.

• Sources of food contamination must be characterised to tackle food safety concerns.

• European countries must commit to collection of more robust data on waste in food systems and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce waste.

Farming and agriculture have significant impacts on human health and the environment:

• A revamp of the Common Agricultural Policy is required to focus on financing innovation rather than providing subsidies to farmers.

• Europe’s dependence on food and animal feed imports increases its footprint in many developing countries that will be most  affected by climate change and environmental degradation. Work is needed to better understand market volatility and fair trade, and to increase resilience.

• Changes to livestock management practices (e.g. sustainable intensification of production) could contribute to GHG mitigation.

• Research is needed on increasing consumer acceptance of alternatives to traditional forms of animal protein, such as food from the oceans, lab-grown meat and insects.

• The potential for meat that is cultured in vitro to have a lower environmental impact than livestock must be examined.

• More effort is needed to understand the functions of soil in carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

Europe should not stall on opportunities offered by genome editing, precision agriculture and the use of large data sets:

• European policy-makers should capitalise on the scientific advances in genomics for animal and crop health and productivity.

• Wild gene pools need to be protected and characterised.

• Large data sets should be used to support innovation throughout the food system, for example in precision agriculture, and prepare for risk and uncertainty.

Underpinning the scientists’ recommendations is a clear call to integrate research and innovation across the disciplines into all of these topics, where many questions remain from a scientific perspective. The report concludes that Europe must capitalise on opportunities to co-design research to understand better the relationship between food, water and ecosystem services. It recommends being more ambitious in identifying scientific opportunities to shape understanding of both supply-and demand-side challenges.



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