Food Security

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

A man disinfects a pig farm in Guangan, Sichuan province, China.

A man disinfects a pig farm in Guangan, Sichuan province, China. Image: REUTERS

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Food Security

The global population is on pace to expand by about 2 billion in the next 30 years, and a lot more of us are now eating far wider variety of things than our parents or grandparents ever did. For many people in developing economies, that’s a very good thing – growing consumption of meat and its complete sources of protein, for example, is a reflection of rising income levels in those places. But as more people devour more nutritious types of food every day, that places serious strains on the ability of governments and regulators to ensure food safety specifically, and global health generally. In some cases, governments have been actively rolling back protections for vital food sources.

Recently, a number of red flags have been raised in relation to global food supply chains and safety. From the breeding of 500kg “super pigs” in China as a means to address a global pork shortage, to concerns about UK food safety once that country splits from the EU and potentially begins importing poultry from the US, a wave of troubling new issues related to international food safety and standards – whether tied to health, safety, the environment, or all three – have emerged.

For more context and expert insight, here’s a set of links from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform to deeper reading:

• The growing appetite for animal protein in developing countries has led to a surge in antibiotic consumption among livestock in those places – and to serious concerns about a related spread of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria in chickens and pigs that can be transferred to humans. (Nature)

• Even if the questionable contents of food products are labelled, odds are pretty good we won’t understand what we’re eating anyway – research shows that more people than you might think find food labels confusing. (The Conversation)

Water scarcity as a result of agriculture is not the least of our food-related worries – as we scramble to feed 10 billion people by 2050, heavily urbanized, water-scarce areas will suffer dearly without innovative government intervention. The Mediterranean, for example, is expected to hit a point of “absolute water scarcity” as soon as 2040. (Istituto Affari Internazionali)

• Protein-rich seafood has saved our species from extinction before, and it may have to once again. But this will only be possible through stronger and more efficient regulation of marine aquaculture that enables more farming of the sea, according to a study published by the Aquarium of the Pacific. (Eos)

• Failing to protect the environment in particular could undercut efforts to feed the world with more fish. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has paved the way for a new, open-pit mine in Alaska that may now threaten the source of many of America’s salmon dinners. (Food & Environment Reporting Network)

• Meanwhile, the pork shortage is real – China opted to tap its national pork reserves last month, to counter a price surge in the run-up to a national holiday. China’s shortage comes in the wake of an epidemic of African swine fever that has been reported in dozens of countries and decimated hog stocks. (Yicai Global)

• Even our “superfoods” might not be safe anymore. A study published last month found that turmeric, a spice hailed as a health booster and healing agent, is being adulterated with a lead-laced chemical compound in order to brighten its colouring – which could increase the rate of heart and brain disease, and interfere with childrens’ brain development. (ScienceDaily)

• The UK’s impending exit from the EU means it could start importing American chicken. For those wary of the American practice of chlorine-washing poultry, something long banned in the EU and the UK, that is a horrifying prospect – even if using chlorine to disinfect chicken isn’t necessarily unsafe. (EcoWatch)

• American chicken production is maybe not poised to become safer any time soon – including for poultry industry workers. The US Department of Agriculture has been granting permission to factories to slaughter chickens at a faster rate than ever before. (ProPublica)

You can find Strategic Intelligence news and analysis feeds related to the Future of Food, the Agriculture, Food and Beverage industry and hundreds of additional topics under the “Publications” tab in the Forum’s Transformation Maps.

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