GM crops ‘could feed the world’
Genetically-modified crops are among measures needed to tackle problems with global food supplies that could see prices soar, leading scientists said.
A new Government-commissioned report warned that there were major failings in a global food system that damages the environment and leaves one billion people hungry.
A further one billion suffer from “hidden hunger” in which nutrients are missing from their diet and the same number are over-consuming, while a third of all food produced is currently wasted.
Without action to tackle the problems with agriculture and production, the pressure on food supplies will increase in the face of a rising world population, competition for land, water and energy and the effects of climate change.
While it is hard to predict the impact on food prices, there is a risk of the kind of volatility seen in the price spike in 2007/08 that led to riots in some parts of the world and an extra 100 million people going hungry. Experts behind the report suggested that food prices could rise by 50 per cent by 2050.
Government chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington said: “There’s a very large risk of quite a substantial increase in food prices in the next 30 to 40 years. This risk is such it demands urgent action on all components of the food system – supply, demand and making the food system work more efficiently.”
The current food system was “fundamentally unsustainable”, over-using resources such as land and fossil fuels while failing to feed the world, he said. He said the report calls for “sustainable intensification” of agriculture to produce more food from the land available – as there was no new land to be brought into production – without harming the environment.
He said biotechnology, such as genetically modified crops, is “extremely important” and that the report shows no option should be closed off. But it was just one of a number of measures needed, along with steps including improving farmers’ skills and investing in scientific knowledge and infrastructure such as roads.
The report found that a third of food produced went to waste, either after it was harvested, particularly in the developing world, or by consumers. In the UK, households could save between £500 and £700 a year by eliminating food waste.
Professor Jules Pretty, of the University of Essex, said measures ranging from conservation farming to biogas digesters to make energy and fertiliser from animal waste were already being used. He said that – following the “green revolution” which massively boosted agricultural production in the 20th century – there needed to be the “greenest revolution” to improve agriculture without harming nature.