25 January 2011
Last night the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and the Foresight Panel issued a stark warning about the future food security of the world. Their report – The Future of Food and Farming concludes that “this is a unique time in history – decisions made now and over the next few decades will disproportionately influence the future”.
The report states that government policies towards agriculture need to change globally to prevent future famines. Australia is one of the most important agricultural countries because of our ability to produce surplus food for export. Currently Australia exports around two thirds of its food and the droughts of 2007 and 2008 are widely regarded as one of the causes of the 2008 global food crisis, when prices spiked and several developing countries rioted.
A key conclusion of the report is that the only way to meet future food needs is through sustainable intensification of agriculture. This recognises that preserving forests is vital in reducing the amount of climate change and that a failure to sustainably intensify agriculture is likely to lead to deforestation.
The report highlights the “unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years” that will affect global food security. Global population is increasing and as poorer countries develop they are consuming more food per person. There are major governance problems with the global food system, particularly trade subsidies, which distort the food market. Climate change will create more droughts and floods, while competition for key resources, such as water, is likely to intensify as these resources run out. Simultaneously, consumer views on ethics are encouraging the exclusion of new technologies such as genetic modification (GM). However the report argues that there are good ethical arguments for the adoption of GM crops;
“New technologies (such as the use of genetic modification of living organisms and the use of cloned livestock and nanotechnology) should not be excluded a priori on ethical or moral grounds