Global food system must be transformed ‘on industrial revolution scale’

The existing food system fails half the people on the planet, and needs radical change if world is to feed itself, report warns

Urban Agriculture

Damian Carrington and John Vidal

The world will not be able to feed itself without destroying the planet unless a transformation on the scale of the industrial revolution takes place, a major government report has concluded.

The existing food system is failing half of the people on Earth, the report finds, with 1 billion going hungry, 1 billion lacking crucial vitamins and minerals from their diet and another billion “substantially overconsuming”, leading to obesity epidemics. Stresses on the food system are reflected in price spikes but the cost of food will rise sharply in coming decades, the report adds, which will increase the risk of conflict and migration.

“The global food system is spectacularly bad at tackling hunger or at holding itself to account,” said Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies and an author of the Global Food and Farming Futures report. An expanding world population combined with the need to stop over-exploiting natural resources such as soil and water means there is a compelling case for urgent action, the report states. Food is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“We need to act now,” said Caroline Spelman, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, whose department co-commissioned the report from the government’s futures thinktank Foresight. “Farmers have to grow more food at less cost to the environment.”

The report, conducted by 400 scientists from 34 countries, found that food security is inextricably linked with seemingly diverse issues from poverty and economic growth, to water and energy shortages, to climate change and biodiversity loss. “The world has not recognised that this linking is essential” to meeting the challenge of feeding 2 billion more people by 2050 but with less environmental impact, said the government’s chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, who oversaw the report. “It is not just science and technology, trade and prices – it is much bigger than that.”

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