In January 2011, the Government Office for Science published its Foresight report The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability.  Over 400 experts and stakeholders from about 35 countries were involved in the development of the report, which is available here.  It is a comprehensive report of over 200 pages and also provides access to over 100 peer-reviewed evidence papers that were commissioned as part of the project.

The aim of the project was to explore the pressures on the global food system between now and 2050 and identify the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably.

Sustainability, as used in the report, implies the use of resources at rates that do not exceed the capacity of the Earth to replace them.

The findings of the report emphasise the importance of the public health and food supply sustainability agendas to be considered in tandem, in order to be successful in ensuring food security and supporting public health.

The report identifies the key drivers of change affecting the food system, including changes in values and ethical stances of consumers.  It also identifies five key challenges for the global food system:
1.    Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable.
2.    Ensuring there is adequate stability in food supplies – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur.
3.    Achieving global access to food and ending hunger (food security for all).
4.    Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
5.    Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.

As part of the challenge to balance future demand and supply sustainably, the report discusses the need to influence consumer demand for foods by changing people’s diets.  It recognises that changing diets is difficult and will require concerted and committed actions, possibly over long timescales.  It considers that the guiding principles for policy makers if they decide to influence patterns of consumption should be: better decisions are made by an informed consumer; simple, consistent and trusted information on food is important; and Government fiscal and regulatory intervention ideally requires societal consensus.

The report concludes that no single approach can meet all of the complex challenges affecting the food system, and that decisive action is needed across a wide front.  The report provides 12 cross-cutting actions as key priorities for policy-makers, including to reduce food waste and to work to change consumption patterns.

Last reviewed March 2011. Next review due January 2013. 

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