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Weekly Overview: New Year's Resolution: Feeding the World

14 January 2013

ANALYSIS - 2013 started with the publication of a new report on the huge amount of food wasted each year between 'field and mouth'. Reducing the amount by just a small percentage could make a big difference to the growing human population, as could further development of biotechnology. These are huge challenges that we will all have to face, sooner or later. And sooner or later, we must accept our share of the responsibility for feeding present and future generations.

A call has gone out for urgent action to prevent 50 per cent of all food produced in the world ending up as waste - up to an estimated two billion tonnes of food wasted.

A new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has found that as much as half of all food produced around the world never reaches a human stomach due to issues as varied as inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities through to overly strict sell-by dates, 'buy-one, get-one free' offers and consumers demanding visually perfect food.

The degree to which science, emotion or assumed ethics should drive technological changes in agriculture and farming are becoming central to the arguments over the development of biotechnology and genetic modification (GM), according to Editor in Chief, Chris Harris, who attended the annual Oxford Farming Conference in the first week of January.

Concerns over the growth in the global population and how to feed growing numbers at a time of climate change and diminishing land and water resources were at the forefront of the debate.

The question of the acceptability of GM foods was first raised by the UK Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who told the conference: "GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and the benefits.

"We should not however be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel."

He added: "I believe GM offers great opportunities but I also recognise that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation."

While the Environment Secretary embraced the potential of GM products, it was a former leading anti-GM campaigner, Mark Lynas, who, in the Frank Parkinson lecture, openly attacked the anti-GM lobby for not basing their arguments on scientific fact.

Turning other news, the use of antibiotics on farm has been causing concern among consumers, farmers, politicians and lobby groups for some time and it is starting to become a major crusade for some to restrict their use, including in the US and the UK.

Russia has banned meat from US and Canada because veterinary authorities have detected traces of the beta-agonist growth promoter, ractopamine.

And finally, the Chinese veterinary authorities have announced a new outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Sichuan. Ten outbreaks of classical swine fever have been reported in south-east Latvia in the second half of December.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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