Feeding the World’s Hungry
The stats on hunger and nutrition are staggering. 870 million people around the world simply do not have enough to eat; and not surprisingly, 98% of these hungry people live in the developing world. The implications of hunger are widespread, effecting productivity, education and of course health. The issue does not end at hunger but also the quality of food consumed. Malnutrition wreaks havoc on developing world populations, particularly children, and undernourishment can be linked to the deaths of 2.6 million children per year, roughly one third of the annual global total of child mortality. An even larger number of children grow up malnourished, suffering through stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies that not only have major physical implications as they grow older, but can also cause serious cognitive development issues as well. In fact, at least 170 million children around the world are already affected by stunting with estimates suggesting that number will grow to 450 million over the next 15 years.
It is with these statistics in mind that The UCD Institute of Food and Health in partnership with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine hosted a policy symposium entitled Feeding the World in 2050. Speakers from around the world presented papers on topics ranging from the effects of global climate change on future food production, to the effects of an ever growing global population and shifting demographics on climate change in order to answer the broader question of how the world can feed the over 9 billion people expected by 2050. Honoured guest speakers included the current and former Presidents of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and Mary Robinson as well as the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, TD.
Some of the most interesting and controversial discussions of the conference surrounded the necessity of the adoption of genetically modified foods in order to feed the world. Dr. Ian Graham from the University of York showed that through advanced and emerging technologies, food scientists are now able to genetically alter plants to have more bountiful harvest, be resistant to droughts and pests, last longer once harvested and include nutrients completely alien to the plant species. Dr. Graham used the example of incorporating genes from algae into fruit and vegetables to boost nutrient content.He emphasized that there were no known side effects to consuming genetically modified food.
As the use of this technology is viewed as a necessity to meet future food demands by many food scientists, countries such as Ireland and much of the European Union member states will need to consider their positions regarding GMOs and be prepared for a fierce debate about growing genetically modified crops on native soil.
What became apparent throughout this symposium, especially from lectures by Prof. Paul Walsh (UCD) and Dr. Siwa Msangi from the International Food Policy Research Institute, is that technological innovation and governmental policy innovation need to take place now in order to feed the world of 2050. Global trade policy, infrastructural investment, technological knowledge sharing and educational investment must become priorities now to halt future suffering.
However, the impetus for such policies and innovations needs to be lead by a cultural shift in regards to consumption patterns in the developed and emerging economies of the world.
Those of us in Europe, North America and Australia and people in places such as China and Brazil need to reevaluate the types and quantity of food we consume, the amount of food we allow to go to waste, and our attitudes towards global climate change. Without this attitudinal shift, the change that needs to take place now to feed the worlds population in the future will stall, leaving millions to suffer.
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