12 January - 20 June 2016

EASAC - opportunities and challenges for food and nutrition security research

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has recently published its report, “Opportunities and challenges for research on food and nutrition security and agriculture in Europe” as a contribution to a worldwide project initiated by the Inter Academy Partnership (IAP), a global network of science academies, to “strengthen the evidence base to underpin the delivery of enhanced food and nutrition security”.

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has recently published its report, “Opportunities and challenges for research on food and nutrition security and agriculture in Europe” as a contribution to a worldwide project initiated by the Inter Academy Partnership (IAP), a global network of science academies, to “strengthen the evidence base to underpin the delivery of enhanced food and nutrition security”.

The report looks at global challenges for food and nutrition security and notes that these include three sets of partially connected nutrition issues: hunger and undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition with obesity. The report describes the science and policy context within which it is written and notes the policies and initiatives relevant to food and nutrition security.  In its conclusions, the report states that its recommendations are not based on a single set of assumptions, particularly an “imperative to produce more food” but rather that it calls for action “throughout the food system”. It states that “the over-abundance of calorie-dense foods and less access to nutrient-dense foods is a major public health issue for Europe” and that while overconsumption in Europe may be an issue for the whole world, research in Europe can significantly contribute to “addressing global issues”.

The report identifies several strategic aspects considered in producing recommendations including to generate better knowledge about climate-smart adaptations and mitigation for food systems, to consider specific issues for vulnerable groups and to ensure that large data sets are available to support innovation. The report also emphasises that it “endorses the view that the EU should move from the present CAP towards food and nutrition policy that rewards innovation” and that the pending CAP reform should shift budget from subsidies towards innovation.

The report summarises a range of specific actions and priorities for scientific inquiry, in five areas, to “generate, use and connect research”. Under the heading of “Nutrition, Food Choices and Food Safety”, the report states that the priorities should include: understanding the drivers of dietary choice and how behaviours can be changed; clarifying what is a sustainable, healthy diet and how sustainability can be measured; evaluating how food systems can be made more nutrition sensitive.

Recommendations on ”Plants and Animals in Agriculture” include determining how genomic research can be used to improve food production and animal health and that research should be directed towards improving knowledge for sustainably harvesting  from the oceans. The report notes that preserving wild gene pools is vital for both plants and animals but that continuing to sequence genes, and using this information in breeding approaches for the introduction of crops with improved nutritional properties, is equally important.

Under the heading of “Environmental Sustainability”, the report indicates that priorities must include developing technologies capable of making food systems less dependent on climate change. It also notes that research should look at the next generation of biofuels. The potential importance of using soil for climate change mitigation is noted along with the need for research directed toward the reduced use of fertilisers.

Finally, the report notes under a “Waste” heading, that more data needs to be collected on the extent of waste in food systems and the effectiveness of measures taken to reduce this and when considering “Trade and Markets”, the report indicates research should look at links between extreme events and price as well as collecting data on trade/price modelling and understanding the characteristics of fair trade systems.

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