Pork slices, plants and sausages caught in biosecurity crack down

This year has been a year of contrasts which has seen an increase in biosecurity risks arriving at Australia’s international mail centres.

Between January and April, Biosecurity officers intercepted around 30,000 mail items posing a potential pest and disease threat.

Head of Biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, said the impact of COVID-19 seems to have led to more people purchasing certain goods online from overseas.

“In total, our officers intercepted around 9000 more mail items containing biosecurity risk material, compared to the same four-month period last year,” Ms O’Connell said.

“This includes more than 26 thousand mail items containing seeds, 1,800 containing animal products and over 600 containing meat.

“Biosecurity detector dogs have been especially busy at the mail centres, making a range of important finds.

“This includes a parcel that contained 40 eggs and was heavily infested with live insects. Eggs can carry significant risks, including Newcastle disease and avian influenza.

“The detector dogs also intercepted live plants, pork slices and sausages, a kilo of retorted chicken feet and 925g of pork buns.

“Another parcel contained 10 peyote cactus – Lophophora williamsii, which were referred to the Australian Border Force as they can potentially be used for narcotics.

“Meat and animal products can carry animal biosecurity risks, including African swine fever, which could devastate Australia’s pork industry.

“Seeds and plants are a biosecurity risk because they can carry pathogens or pests that can threaten the environment and horticulture industries.

“Our biosecurity officers and detector dogs provide crucial front line defence at our mail centres, and we’re also deploying 3D x-rays that can automatically detect biosecurity risk items.

“However, everyone needs to do their part in safeguarding Australia’s agriculture and the environment by doing the right thing when buying goods online from overseas.

“Make sure you are aware of items that may not be permitted and do your biosecurity research before you click purchase.”

Mail items that pose a biosecurity risk and do not meet import conditions are directed for immediate export back to the overseas sender, or immediately destroyed.

People found to breach Australia’s biosecurity conditions can be subject to an investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

Enhancing Australia’s bee pest surveillance to aid food security

Enhancements to the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program have delivered a range of valuable outcomes to support the health of Australia’s bees.

Head of biosecurity, at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Lyn O’Connell, said the enhancements will help prevent incursions of exotic bee pests and pest bees.

“Bee pollination supports our crop industries and food security, so we need to have strong biosecurity measures in place to protect the health of our bees,” O’Connell said.

“These enhancements will improve our surveillance, diagnostics, preparedness and response arrangements for key bee pests and viruses.

Forty upgraded catchboxes are being deployed in remote and restricted high-risk areas for pest bees, to allow workers to capture and inspect bee swarms and expand surveillance capacity.

“We are also investigating better options for Asian honey bee specific catchboxes, to improve our targeted surveillance for this significant pest bee,” O’Connell said.

Targeted floral sweep netting will be implemented at high-risk ports for Asian honey bees and other pest bees. It is seen as a tool to catch exotic bees and detect potential incursions.

Extensive surveillance has been undertaken for bee viruses of significance for Australia, including Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, Deformed Wing Virus, Slow Paralysis Virus.

“No exotic viruses were found, demonstrating the health of Australia’s bees. Ongoing surveillance will be undertaken to support evidence-based proof of absence for these viruses,” O’Connell said.

“We are building national diagnostic skills across laboratories to support our preparedness and response activities for these key bee viruses.

“Our response to potential incursions will also be boosted through a new electronic portal that will allow surveillance data to be captured and shared in real-time.

Biosecurity plays a vital role in supporting the health of Australia’s bees and these enhancements will help ensure the measures the country has in place protect bees now and into the future.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program is jointly funded by the department, Australian Honeybee Industry Council, Hort Innovation and Grain Producers Australia.

Food security not an issue for Australia

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences’ (ABARES) latest Insights report provides analysis of Australia’s food security.

ABARES Executive director Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds said that despite temporary shortages of some food items in supermarkets, caused by an unexpected surge in demand, Australia does not have a food security problem.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken Australia and the world by surprise. Coming after severe drought conditions in eastern Australia, concerns have been raised about Australian food security. These concerns are understandable, but misplaced,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

“Australia does not have a food security problem, with Australia exporting about 70 per cent of agricultural production.

“Australia produces substantially more food than it consumes, even in drought years.  Some of our largest industries, such as beef and wheat, are heavily export focused. Other industries like horticulture, pork and poultry sell most of their production into the domestic market, with an emphasis on the supply of fresh produce,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

Australia imports only about 11 per cent of our food by value.

“These imports play an important role in meeting consumer preferences for taste and variety,” Hatfield-Dodds said.

“Australian agricultural production and food supply chains are adapted to cope with our very variable climate. This results in stable supply for domestic consumption, while exports absorb the ups and downs associated with wet and dry periods,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

Australians are wealthy by global standards and can choose from diverse and high-quality foods from all over the world, at affordable prices, regardless of seasonal conditions or changes in world prices.

“Most Australians can afford to purchase healthy food that meets their nutritional needs,” Hatfield-Dodds said.

“Global food supplies and access has improved dramatically over the last 70 years, driven primarily by increased physical productivity and crop yields.

“Recent rain and a positive seasonal forecast make it more likely that production volumes will increase, providing the best outlook in several years. Global grains stocks are also abundant. The International Grains Council is forecasting that world wheat, rice, maize (corn), and soybean production will all reach record levels in 2020–21,” Steve Hatfield-Dodds said.

Australian agricultural producers do rely on global supply chains and imported inputs. Shortages or disruptions to these inputs have not yet been widespread but could impact on profitability.

“While action is already in train to address key issues, it will be important for business and government to continue to actively monitor and manage these emerging risks,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

Securing industrial operations in the food and beverage industry

Many people are familiar with the financial risks associated with cyberattacks, but agroterrorism — the intentional disruption of the food supply chain with the intention to harm the population — is an increasing risk. Although the consequences of agroterrorism are relatively high, there has been little attention on minimising this type of threat. Connected automation systems are making food and beverage manufacturing more efficient, productive and cost-effective, but this greater connectivity creates greater opportunities for agroterrorism.

The food and beverage industry has historically been a slow adopter of technology, but this is changing. This high-level of connectivity allows plant managers to gather and monitor multiple data points spanning all areas of the production line, including changes in temperature, equipment performance and the quality of ingredients. This can reap multiple benefits such as increased efficiency, quality, profits and improvements to human safety. Unfortunately, many automation systems like this are prime targets for cybercriminals looking to disrupt a business or industry.

Data vulnerability can fall into several risk categories. For example, theft, public exposure, data corruption or loss, and data manipulation. Making sure that process data is protected against cyber-attacks, should be a priority for all food and beverage manufacturers.

A major risk of data breaches is the malicious manipulation of recipes. Over two million people die from food related illnesses every year and more than 1.3 billion tons of food is discarded due to spoilage. According to a Trustwave Global Security report, the retail, food and beverage sectors are more commonly attacked than banking and financial firms. With increasingly automated production lines, hackers have the potential to hack into programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to poison a food supply or endanger food safety by shutting down refrigeration systems. This could not only impact suppliers but also impact transporters, distributors, and restaurant chains.

Unlike the banking and financial sector, food manufacturing is not regarded as a high-risk industry. Therefore, it is common that food and beverage companies lack comprehensive cyber security programs. However, as evidence suggests, this can risk causing illness and fatalities through tainted food, thus incurring legal battles, fines and negative impact on the brand. That is not to mention the costly downtime associated with shutting down a production line until the problem is dealt with.

Many operational technology systems are interconnected with IT networks, leaving them more exposed as there are multiple access points for cyber-attacks. Insecure remote access, operating system flaws and a lack of staff training can all impact the cybersecurity strength of an organization. However, there are steps to minimize the likelihood of attacks.

Simple measures, such as implementing firewalls, timely deployment of security updates and using anti-virus software, can protect against some common attacks. Security zones should also be essential so that all data can be protected. To ensure safety systems are adequately secured, risk assessments should be carried out to detail each potential threat area and assess the identified vulnerabilities for their likelihood.

Threat detection aims to track and monitor the status of all operational devices and configuration of parameter settings, preventing any unauthorized interventions. Continually monitoring these systems provides plant managers with an early warning sign of any unauthorised changes or malicious events.

Services like the ABB Ability Cyber Security Services, provide manufacturers with customized cybersecurity solutions with multiple layers of control. Delivering sophisticated protection for the entire system lifecycle, from identification of security risk to the recovery of compromised systems, ABB’s  Ability Cyber Security Services can identify the vulnerabilities that exist in a system, so that the areas of weaknesses can be addressed and security controls implemented.

Plant managers should also opt for safety systems with cloud infrastructure built into the platform, allowing them to securely store their data.

Food and beverage manufacturers must adhere to fast production cycles to preserve nutrition value and freshness, while meeting the high-quality standards that the industry demands — and it’s clear that automation is the key to remaining competitive and achieving these goals. However, an effective cybersecurity solution is be integral to keeping these systems safe.

Investment in climate-smart rice production is the cornerstone of global food security

Leveraging climate finance to scale climate-smart rice production is the cornerstone of global food security and urgently needed to avert civil unrest, a new report by Earth Security Group (ESG) has found.

Proposing three innovative finance solutions to support sustainable rice production in line with the Paris Agreement climate targets, Financing Sustainable Rice for a Secure Future is published today by ESG, with support of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), the leading food and agribusiness company Phoenix, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

These include a ‘rice bond’ to finance sustainable rice value chains taking advantage of 2020 being a key year for the growth of green bonds in the agriculture sector, as highlighted by the Climate Bonds Initiative. A rice bond would enable a global rice processor, trader, or retailer to provide farmers with capital to transition to sustainable production, improve farming practices, increase yields and revenue, and become more resilient to climate risks.

Coming ahead of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid, ESG recommends leveraging international climate finance to attract private sector investment for climate-smart rice production.  Country pledges that include rice in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) would be the first place to start. At present, forty-eight countries include in their NDCs the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from rice paddies but have not yet outlined how they plan to incentivise the private sector to achieve these targets.

Rice is vital to the food security of over half the world’s population (3.5 billion), with Asia accounting for 90 per cent of global rice consumption. In lower-income countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam, up to 70 per cent of people’s dietary energy comes from rice. The commodity is the source of 10 per cent of global anthropogenic methane emissions. In Southeast Asia – the world’s rice bowl – rice cultivation accounts for up to 25-33 per cent of the region’s methane emissions, and between 10-20 per cent of its overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that rice production will fall across the world. Asia will be particularly hard hit due to a convergence of land degradation, climate change, and water scarcity.

Larger rice-producing countries such as India and China, with extensive territories that cover a range of climatic zones, will have more space to shift rice cultivation to cooler areas that will become suitable for growing rice. However, smaller producers and importers in the tropical belt, such as countries in Southeast Asia and West Africa, lack such flexibility to adapt.

Australian scientist awarded fellowship for work in biotech solutions for food security

The CSIRO’s ON and the Menzies Foundation named three of Australia’s most innovative scientists as recipients of the 2019 Menzies Science Entrepreneurship Fellowship.

Established to support the nation’s most talented science entrepreneurs in the early stages of commercialisation, the Fellowship awards recipients with $90,000 to fully dedicate themselves towards their new venture and focus on making their enterprise goals a commercial reality. The recipients of the 2019 Menzies Science Entrepreneurship Fellowships are:

  • Dr Melony Sellars, a global shrimp expert and co-founder of Genics, a startup securing global food production through smart pathogen detection and breeding selection. Melony and her team are working on solving real-world problems through developing and applying novel biotech solutions to revolutionise today’s farming practices to deliver global food security for the future. The company is currently conducting trials around the world.
  • Dr Simon Gross, a leading optics and telecommunications expert and CTO of Modular Photonics. This startup manufactures a series of glass chip micro devices that significantly increases data transmission rates. Simon and his team’s award-winning technology offers solutions for upgrading and future-proofing legacy multimode fibre networks.
  • Dr Jinghua Fang, a materials scientist and founder of AloxiTec. Forty-five per cent of fresh produce is wasted every year, resulting in a significant cost across the value chain, especially in Australia’s export market. AloxiTec is hoping to reduce this wastage, creating specialised packaging to extend shelf life and improve the freshness of fresh produce without refrigeration and chemical contamination.

“At ON, we believe that every sector of society – from philanthropy to academia and government – has a crucial role to play in supporting science, research and innovation in Australia. This Fellowship program is an example of our deep commitment to unearthing research in science and steering it towards commercialisation. Each recipient was chosen based on their entrepreneurial capacity and the immense potential of their ideas.  I look forward to following the journey of these incredible scientists as they shape the future for Australia and the world,” said CSIRO ON Program executive manager David Burt.

READ MORE: Recalls on the rise: five signs of a lagging food safety culture

Menzies Foundation believes philanthropy can play a unique role in sparking discovery and innovation in Australia. We are passionate about investing in our country’s future science leaders and giving them the runway to ensure that their research has an impact in the world.  We look forward to sharing their entrepreneurial journey,” Menzies Foundation CEO Liz Gillies said.

2019 ON Impact Awards winners announced
CSIRO’s ON has also announced the winners of this year’s Impact Awards. The inaugural awards celebrate the diversity of the program’s alumni and recognise the value they create for Australia and the world through their innovations.

This year’s winners include: Emesent, which have created autonomy technology for industrial drones; Genics, a new pest detection system that cuts costs and time delays for Aussie prawn farmers; and Diffuse Energy which have developed new tech that is pioneering small-scale wind generation.

The full list of categories and winners:

  • Social Innovation: RapidAIM (award sponsored by Hitachi) – real-time information of insect pest detection in your orchards & farms
  • Future Industries: Bee Innovation (award sponsored by Austrade) – a radar-like sensor for bees which is able to identify, track and report bee pollination activity across the orchard and field in near real-time
  • Securing our Future: Genics (award sponsored by AusIndustry) – securing global food production through smart pathogen detection and breeding selection in prawns
  • Jobs & Growth: Emesent (award sponsored by Curious Thing) – drones that use Hovermap technology to automate the collection and analysis of critical data in challenging underground environments
  • Health & Wellbeing: Noisy Guts (award sponsored by McR) – acoustic belt that records gut noises over time so doctors can accurately screen and diagnose gut disorders
  • Sustainable energy & Resources: Diffuse Energy (award sponsored by Singularity University) – renewable technologies that will enable a shift to a more self-sufficient energy model for anyone wanting energy equality
  • People’s Choice: Silentium Defence — passive radar technology that will allow Defence Forces to maintain their situational awareness without advertising their presence



Foodbank calls for Food Insecurity strategy

Hunger relief organisation Foodbank is also calling on the Federal Government to develop a National Food Insecurity Strategy, to ensure both food insecurity and food waste are addressed.

The call comes as Australia’s first-ever National Food Waste Strategy is set to be launched today. While Foodbank welcomes this as a step towards providing long-term solutions to the $20 billion food waste problem, the organisation wants more attention to be also given to the issue of food security.

“A food waste strategy is long-overdue, but we are concerned that it appears to lack the necessary funding to ensure rapid implementation. Nevertheless, it is a great first step in reducing the amount of perfectly edible food that is wasted, particularly given this country’s worrying food insecurity problem,” Foodbank CEO, Brianna Casey said.

The latest Foodbank Hunger Report revealed that a shocking 3.6 million Australians (15% of the population) were food insecure, meaning they had experienced uncertainty around where their next meal was coming from in the last 12 months – and they are not who you’d think. Almost half of food insecure Australians are employed with 2 in 5 of these households being families with dependent children.

“The food supply and demand equation is entirely out of balance in Australia, not helped at all by the fact that we are wasting staggering amounts of food,” Ms Casey said. “How can it be that we produce enough food in Australia to feed approximately 60 million people, yet 3.6 million Australians were food insecure last year?”

Foodbank argues that the issue is not so much that there is not enough food, but that the food isn’t getting to the right places, in the right time, to help address food insecurity and avoid waste. As such, Foodbank is calling on the Federal Government to complement its National Food Waste Strategy with a whole-of-government strategy to address Australia’s growing food insecurity crisis.

To combat hunger in Australia, Foodbank works closely with farmers, manufacturers, and retailers, to source fresh and manufactured foods for vulnerable Australians in need. The farm sector generously donates large volumes of fresh produce each year, with last financial year’s donations including:

  • 112,000 kilograms of unprocessed and manufactured rice and grain products,
  • 1.2 million litres of fresh milk,
  • 196,000 kilograms of meat,
  • 5.8 million kilograms of fruit and vegetables, and
  • 112,000 kilograms of eggs.

“Only one day out from National Agriculture Day, it is important that our farmers across the country know that the entire supply chain will be working together to ensure the wonderful, fresh produce they work so hard to grow will not be wasted,” Ms Casey said.

“Farmers right across Australia are already donating huge volumes of fresh produce to Foodbank, and we’re not just talking about the produce that doesn’t meet cosmetic standards,” Ms Casey said.  “Many farmers are regularly donating first-grade produce to Foodbank to help families, just like their own, who are doing it tough right now.

“We are so grateful to our farm sector and the food and grocery industry for their ongoing commitment to helping everyday Australians who are going through tough times, helping Foodbank tackle both food insecurity and food waste,” she said.

Chief Minister to unveil vision for ACT as food security hub

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr will today unveil a vision for the territory to become a food safety hub and a home to plant and agricultural science.

The Canberra Times reports that the Chief Minister will use his ‘state of the territory’ address to introduce the idea.

“Canberra already has significant strengths in plant and agricultural sciences, through research from the Research School of Biology at ANU and the CSIRO Black Mountain laboratories, to major public policy knowledge,” Barr (pictured) will say.

“There are only a few such hubs around the world and a growing food security need in the Asia-Pacific region means the time is ripe to engage in this sector.”

According to the report, the plan will involve Australian research organisations like the CSIRO and the Australian National university, as well as multinational companies and other links with Asia.

Food security: we throw away a third of the food we grow – here’s what to do about waste

In the UK, roughly a third of the food grown in the field never actually makes into anybody’s mouth. For every three pigs raised on a farm, the equivalent of one will ultimately be sent to landfill. A third of all apples, perfectly good for consumption, will somehow be discarded. The message is simple: we waste food, and we waste a lot of it.

Food waste is a global problem, but in the developed world, where our farming and manufacturing practices are efficient, the food waste that occurs at these early stages is largely unavoidable (meat bones, egg shells, banana peel and the like).

Conversely, in UK homes – where 7m of the 13m tonnes of food waste comes from each year – 77% of waste is either avoidable (at some point, it has been perfectly good food) or possibly avoidable (food that some people eat, but others don’t, such as potato skins and meat fat). This is akin to throwing away one shopping bag in five as you leave the supermarket – with an annual cost to a family of four of more than £740.

Clearly, not all food waste is equal. The cost and environmental impact of a kilo of beef is much higher than that of a kilo of potatoes, as would be expected. And so with short shelf-life food categories. Fresh produce, bakery, meats and dairy top the most wasted list – and have the largest energy, CO2, and water footprints – and so should be the main focus for reducing waste.

Blame game

It seems too easy to say that it is the responsibility of consumers to reduce these ridiculous levels of waste. And it is too easy. A couple of years ago, Professor Tim Lang wrote here about food waste being a symptom of a much bigger problem, explaining that the relative low cost of food almost forces a consumer society to buy more food than it can eat. It is arguably the economic powerhouses (in this case, the food giants) that drive this through brand advertising, store layouts and clever pricing strategies. So the question is now: isn’t it the food providers’ responsibility to reduce food waste?

So much waste, but whose fault is it?
Dora Zett

Well, the answer is that both providers and consumers have a part to play. For the consumers, the argument for this is easy: wasting less food equals saving more money, and you feel good for doing less harm to the environment. For the providers (manufacturers and retailers), the drive is less clear: selling less food equals less profit.

Cooking up a solution

So how can food providers help consumers reduce food waste, but still remain profitable? There are a few options, but some of them are not easy to swallow. The price of food seems a pretty obvious place to start. Consumers currently spend around 11% of their income on food and drink. Five decades ago, the proportion was three times higher, so naturally people wasted less. In sub-Saharan Africa, where consumers spend half of their income on food, it would be difficult to envisage high levels of waste. But increasing the price of food such that consumers “value” it more is likely to be very unpopular – and such a move would fly in the face of the modern food industry and its apparently eternal price wars.

Looking at the statistics, it appears that a large proportion of food waste is due to products with short shelf-lives not being used in time. Consequently, there is potential for improvements in food processing or packaging and storage to increase the useable life of such products and reduce the potential for spoilage before use.

But given that leading supermarkets demand 90% of product life at the point of store entry, and goods already have extended lifetimes due to already excessive packaging and protective atmospheres, significant increases in shelf-life are unlikely.

A brave move might be to abolish “use-by” and “best-before” dates (we didn’t have them before the 1970s), but this would open up a legislative can of worms. Until somebody invents a device that can reliably tell whether a leg of lamb has gone off, I suspect these dates are likely to stay.

Time to shelve the use-by dates?

You could just make sure you eat the food before it goes bad, but the nation’s already bulging waistline might struggle with this extra consumption. Food waste via overconsumption is yet another issue.

Delivering efficiencies

Perhaps the greatest improvement would be to completely change the food provision market. Consumers are like micro-manufacturers: they buy stock (ingredients) and use processes (cook) to meet a demand (their family’s hunger). But unlike manufacturers, consumers aren’t very good at managing their inventory, using their processes efficiently or predicting demand accurately. This leads to food waste.

There is therefore an argument for food providers to help consumers meet their families’ needs by selling meals, not food. It’s not inconceivable to imagine in the future people planning meals and then ordering them off the internet for home delivery – it might build better relationships between providers and consumers, too. Even if consumers pay more for food which is delivered when wanted and actually gets eaten, it would be more convenient and could well end up being cheaper overall.

Whichever approaches materialise to successfully reduce food waste, one thing is certain: there needs to be a collaborative, mutually beneficial approach for both providers and consumers. Only with this market-level change can we expect the amount of food we throw away to diminish.

The Conversation

Elliot Woolley, Lecturer in Sustainable Manufacturing, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food security: how drought and rising prices led to conflict in Syria

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria.

From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today.

Goaded on by the tabloids, Church reaped a whirlwind of public ridicule:

But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts.

In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. Small shocks may have little impact but, a particular shock or set of shocks could tip the system into a new state. This new state could represent a collapse in agriculture or even the fall of a government.

In 2011, Syria became the latest country to experience disruption in a wave of political unrest crossing North Africa and the Middle East. Religious differences, a failure of the ruling regime to tackle unemployment and social injustice and the state of human rights all contributed to a backdrop of social unrest. However, these pressures had existed for years, if not decades.

So was there a trigger for the conflict in the region which worked in tandem with the ongoing social unrest?

Syria, and the surrounding region, has experienced significant depletion in water availability since 2003. In particular an intense drought between 2007 and 2010, alongside poor water management, saw agricultural production collapse and a mass migration from rural areas to city centres. Farmers, who had been relatively wealthy in their rural surroundings now found themselves as the urban poor reliant on food imports. Between 2007 and 2009 Syria increased its annual imports of wheat and meslin (rice flour) by about 1.5m tonnes. That equated to a more than ten-fold increase in importing one of the most basic foods.

Cereal imports by weight and value to Syria from 2006 to 2010. Source: UN Comtrade Database.

Complex system

There is a tendency these days to believe that global trade will protect the world from food production shocks. A small production shock in one region can be mitigated by increasing, temporarily, imports of food or by sourcing food from another region. However, certain shocks, or a set of shocks, could create an amplifying feedback that cascades into a globally significant event.

The food system today is increasingly complex and an impact in land, water, labour or infrastructure could create fragility. A large enough perturbation can lead to a price response in the global market that sends a signal to other producers to increase their output to make up for any shortfall. While increased prices can be beneficial to farmers and food producers, if the price increase is large enough it can have a significant impact on communities that are net food importers.

Additionally, food production is concentrated both in a relatively small handful of commodity crops such as wheat, rice and maize as well as from a relatively small number of regions, for example the US, China and Russia. This concentration means any disruption in those regions will have a large impact on global food supply. Reliance on global markets for sourcing food can therefore be a source of systemic risk.

Rising prices

In 2008 the global price of food increased dramatically. This increase was the result of a complex set of issues including historically low global food stocks, drought in Australia following production lows in several other areas over the previous few years, and speculation and an increase in biofuel production in North America.

This spike in global food price in 2008 was a factor in the initial unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

In Syria a local drought which coincided with this global shock in food prices resulted in dramatic changes in the availability and cost of food. In response small groups of individuals protested. The government response, combined with a background of rising protests, existing social tensions and instability in the wider region, quickly escalated into the situation we are experiencing today.

The events in Syria, then, appear to stem from a far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water – and its impact on food production. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue – it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa. Over the coming decades this water security challenge is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change.

To better manage these types of risks in the future, and to build societal resilience, the world needs to understand our society’s interdependence on natural resources and how this can lead to events such as those that unfolded in Syria. We need analytical, statistical, scenario or war game-type models to explore different possible futures and policy strategies for mitigating the risk. By understanding sources of political instability we hope to get a better handle on how these types of crisis arise.

The Conversation

Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

Eating insects has long made sense in Africa. The world must catch up

Eating insects is as old as mankind. Globally, 2 billion people consume insects, a practise known as entomophagy. It is more common in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The continent is home to the richest diversity of edible insects – more than 500 species ranging from caterpillars (Lepidoptera) to termites (Isoptera), locusts, grasshoppers, crickets (Orthoptera), ants and bees (Hymenoptera), bugs (Heteroptera and Homoptera) and beetles (Coleoptera).

The dominant insect eating countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa. The most commonly eaten insects include caterpillars, termites, crickets and palm weevils.

Scientists have long proposed insects as feed or foodstuff for animals. But views about entomophagy differ widely: food conscious lobbies and scientists promote insects as novel foods while at the other extreme people view eating insects as crazy. Between those two extremes are communities that have been practising entomophagy for ages.

Most edible insects are harvested from the wild. Little effort has been put into how they could be mass produced and used as a source of protein more generally. To do this, it’s important that the biodiversity of edible insects is understood better, and that indigenous knowledge is uncovered.

To get even this far, however, attitudes to entomophagy need to change. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, anticipating scarcities of agricultural land and water as well as nutrients as the world’s population increases, has spearheaded a fierce propaganda campaign promoting the benefits of entomophagy. Despite this there is still a reluctance to use insects as food. Added to this is the fact that current biodiversity conservation efforts unfortunately overlook the world of insects.

This needs to change.

What’s in a name?

Documenting indigenous knowledge systems would be a useful way to promote entomophagy. One of the challenges is that African dialects don’t necessarily provide descriptions that could be used in scientific knowledge. Often species are described based on visual features according to the host plants they feed off or the seasons in which they occur.

By contrast, the French term for insect – la bestiole – refers generally to a variety of disgusting insects like flies, cockroaches, bugs or even spiders (which of course are not insects) unfit for human consumption.

Africans have never considered edible insects as pests or a nuisance.

But people living in Africa have never considered edible insects as pests or a nuisance. Perhaps we need to think of a new appellation for edible insects to kill the disgust factor. A simple language analogy between 30 ethnic groups in 12 sub-Saharan countries provided tentative names for edible termites. These are, “Tsiswa”, “Chiswa”, “Chintuga”, “Inswa”, “Iswa”, “Sisi”, “Ishwa” or “Esunsun”. Any of these indigenous names could be used to market termite based products.

Map showing hotspots of edible insects in Africa.
Saliou Niassy

Opportunities and success stories

Insects are rich in nutrients such as amino acids, which are often absent in conventional foods. They have been used as such for ages by indigenous communities like the Mofu living at the border between Cameroon and Nigeria in the Mandara area, the Nganda people living in tropical forests in the DRC and Bushmen in Namibia and South Africa. They can be used as food and also as feed for other animals or medicine.

Given their nutritional value and their potential for mass production, insects could help address the challenge of food security. New entrepreneurship and business opportunities can be incubated in the food and feed systems and pharmaceuticals sectors. This in turn would lead to job creation.

Examples of this potential already exist. The caterpillar Cirina sp is among the most popular edible insects in west Africa. An enterprise, FasoPro, has developed various products using the insects to contribute to food security in Burkina Faso. Their business model is inclusive, involving local people.

In the DRC a Food and Agricultural Organisation funded project trained hundreds of farmers to domesticate the palm grubs Rhynchonphorus sp “Mpose”. This initiative contributed to reducing the clearing of palm ecosystems during harvesting of the valued insect. The same experience has been reported in Cameroon.

But the potential remains largely untapped. Many countries on the continent are eagerly searching for alternative protein sources for animal feed. This is particularly noticeable in the poultry sector where the growing scarcity of resources to produce the ingredients needed for feed has led to an increase in feed costs. Insects could provide a solution.

The major challenge, however, is perception. To uncover the real value of insects, strong education programmes are needed. This can be done through a structured framework covering both inventory, technology upscaling, safety, processing and legislation.

The Conversation

Saliou Niassy, Project Manager, University of Pretoria, PostGraduate School of Agriculture and Rural Development, University of Pretoria and Sunday Ekesi, Principal Scientist and Head of the Plant Health Theme, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image : Flickr

Food security app protects premium Aussie foods in Asia

SOPHISTICATED anti-counterfeit and traceability technology is helping to protect the integrity of premium Australian foods in Asia.

Beston Global Food Company, based in Adelaide, South Australia, has developed a two-part platform to protect its products from counterfeiters and is making it available to other Australian exporters.

The first part of platform is an anti-counterfeit aspect, known as Brandlok, that contains spectrum fingerprint technology similar to what is used to prevent currency counterfeiting.

Developed by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and commercialised by DataDot Technology, Brandlok is the result of a partnership between Beston and DataDot.

The second part of the system is an app-enabled platform called Oziris that traces the origin of the individual ingredients in the product down to the batch level, when the product was made and where, use by dates, and methods and dates of shipping.

Beston, which has employed a closed loop supply chain to expand rapidly into Asia, has been using the technology since February for its own products and opened it up for other Australian food exporters in July.

So far about 300 products are protected by the system – about 60 of Beston’s and 240 from external companies.

Beston Global Food Company Chief Technology Officer Al Jawhari said about 80 per cent of the companies using the system had experienced problems with food counterfeiting in the past.

He said there was nothing else on the market for Australian companies that combined hi-tech anti-counterfeit measures with traceability functions on the one platform. Beston has protected this technology with international patents and patent pending IP.

“This is top end technology, it is extremely sophisticated and even the process of application we only do it here in Australia to make sure the loop is closed,” Jawhari said.

“There are other fingerprint spectrum technologies that can be applied but they can be counterfeited and that’s the critical part.

“We are in a leading position with this platform.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says counterfeited and pirated goods account for up to 2.5 per cent of world trade, or as much as $US461 billion, significantly damaging companies and state coffers.

According to a recent report by MarketsandMarkets.com, the market for anti-counterfeit packaging is projected to grow from US$82.05 billion in 2015 to US$153.95 billion by 2020, at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 13.4 per cent.

When a customer chooses a product with the Oziris/Brandlok technology they use themobile app to scan the seal sticker, which contains spectrum fingerprint technology, to ensure its authenticity.

img - Oziris_Shallow

They can then scan the QR code to learn more about the product, such as the source of all ingredients, factory locations, shipping dates and customer reviews.

Beston owns a number of brands across a broad range of premium foods including dairy, seafood, meat and health nutrition.

Jawhari said a brand was almost impossible to recover once it had been damaged through counterfeit.

He said any product that signed up to use the company’s technology could also be sold through Beston’s overseas distribution channels and on its e-commerce platform.

“Our customers need to have 100 per cent peace of mind,” Jawhari said.

“We’re providing the traceability anti-counterfeit technology as well as the e-commerce, the B2B and B2C all in the one platform.

“So the offering is amazing for small to medium producers who have unique products but who don’t have the platform that enables them to export, which is an extreme challenge.

“Any product that is part of the Oziris/Brandlok technology, as long as it has certification, is sold overseas through our distribution channels.”

The app, which runs natively in English and Mandarin, is operational in China, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and is hoped to be rolled out in Hong Kong and South Korea by the end of the year.

Jawhari said Asian consumers, particularly in China, were very aware of counterfeit food issues and were happy to use technology to ensure they were getting authentic products.

“We have fulfilment partners in all these cities where we have the technology either at distributor level through supermarkets or directly through the e-commerce platform,” he said.

“This is going to be the leading platform to protect Australian products overseas.

“Our biggest market is China and there is huge potential in the premium produce, which also has the problem with counterfeit – this is where we come in.”

This article was first posted in The Lead South Australia and is posted here with permission.

UN calls for sustainable food systems, improved global nutrition

Opening its 43rd plenary session in Rome today in the wake of major global agreements on sustainable development and climate change, the main United Nations body focused on food security and nutrition, called for an urgent transformation of the world’s food system and nutrition to eradicate all forms of extreme poverty, hunger, and malnutrition by 2030.

In her opening remarks, Amira Gornass, the Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), stressed the importance of establishing a “sustainable food systems is in essence working to achieve the food security and nutrition-related targets of the 2030 Agenda.”

According to José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who also addressed the meeting, “there is a clear failure of food systems to deliver healthy diets to people,” as more than half of the world population suffers from one or more forms of malnutrition, including hunger, micronutrient deficiency and obesity.

As such, Mr. Graziano da Silva encouraged people to turn to CFS for answers, stating, however, that efforts to tackle nutrition and food systems will require extended partnership, including action from diverse stakeholders, as noted by Elisabeth Rasmusson, the Assistant Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).

“We must renew our efforts to build more sustainable food systems, which are better able to withstand changing weather patterns and extreme events and respond to nutritional needs — building resilience into our food systems, mitigating the risks, and ensuring we are more prepared for climate shocks in the future,” she added.

The key goals of the food system transformation must be achieved in “an increasingly adverse context where population growth, a shrinking resource base, climate change and urbanization will challenge our ability to find new ways of working and interacting,” added Mr. Graziano da Silva.

In addition, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo F. Nwanze stressed the urgency of the issue by saying: “We need to do more, do it better, faster and together […] to transform rural areas into places where people can live fulfilling lives, and plan for a bright future; where every one of the world’s three billion rural people is able to adapt to climate change; and were each day starts and ends with access to food that is nutritious and plentiful.”

In addition to acting as the UN system’s guiding body for food security and nutrition debates, CFS is structured to allow participants from civil society, the private sector, other UN agencies and international financial institutions, research bodies and other non-state actors a voice in policy decisions. This plenary, the 43rd, has set a record with more than 1,400 registered participants, according to FAO.

Delegates will also endorse two sets of policy recommendations, one regarding the role of livestock in sustainable agricultural development and another regarding the importance of connecting smallholders to markets.

Image: FAO/Oliver Bunic

World food waste issues on the agenda at Crawford Fund forum

Two University of Southern Queensland (USQ) academics, Professor Alice Woodhead and Associate Professor Bernadette McCabe, will be sharing their insights into improving food security at the 2016 Crawford Fund conference.

Being held next week in Canberra, the conference is entitled Waste Not, Want Not: The Circular Economy to Food Security.

The conference is the premier annual event of The Crawford Fund, a not-for-profit organisation which works to raise awareness of the benefits to Australia and developing countries from international agricultural research.

Professor Woodhead’s talk is entitled the Last Mile Challenge, and will look at how the rapid growth of mega cities and Asia’s middle class has driven change in retail outlets and consumer purchasing.

As leader of the Agricultural Value Chains research program at USQ’s Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development, and as a member of the Australian-ASEAN Council, Professor Woodhead will be talking about the scope of the mega-city food waste problem and food distribution.

“In the past, most of Asia’s food wastage occurred post-harvest and during distribution to wet markets. The growth of supermarkets, limited cold storage distribution and more packaged food at supermarkets is increasing waste within mega cities,” Professor Woodhead said.

“Waste created once food leaves distribution centres tends to end up in open landfills on the edge of cities.  The challenge we face in managing this problem is immense, but can be tackled on a number of fronts.”

For her talk, Associate Professor Bernadette McCabe (pictured) will draw on her experience as Australian National Team Leader for the International Energy Agency’s Bioenergy Task 37: Energy from Biogas and leader of Energy Conservation Management research at USQ’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture.

Entitled Waste-to-Energy Innovations Powering a Circular Economy, Associate Professor McCabe’s address will scope the potential of waste-to-energy generators like anaerobic digesters to counter energy poverty and improve livelihoods.

“I will be highlighting some key innovations across the globe, with a focus on novel approaches being used in developing countries and how they can minimise the impact of food loss and waste,” she said.

“When combined with food security, waste-to-energy technologies provide a powerful case for city and rural communities alike.”

Creating a new humanities menu without the intellectual junk food of neoliberal thought

What are the humanities?

Loosely speaking, they are academic disciplines that study how people process and document the human experience through history, philosophy, literature and cultural studies.

In South Africa, a more elastic net for describing the humanities has been used. It includes the social sciences – sociology, anthropology, political studies and the like.

Why study humanities?

For many, this stubborn question remains unanswered notwithstanding the publication, three years ago, of two local reports on why the humanities matter. The first was issues by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Controversially, it argued the humanities in South Africa were in “crisis”.

The second, initiated by South Africa’s minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande, also made recommendations – the most controversial of which was the establishment of a government-supported National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Full power on display

At the recent International Symposium on Food Studies, held at the University of Pretoria, the full power of the humanities was on display. It is a real pity so few were there to see them in action.

Organised by the DST-NRF Centre for Excellence in Food Security, which is jointly hosted by the universities of Pretoria and the Western Cape, the gathering hosted 43 participants from the US, France, the UK, Senegal and South Africa.

If the intellectual fare was first-rate, imaginative choreography helped to make this a truly memorable conference. In one session, the conference heard a riveting theoretically rich talk on food (and its preparation) in late-modernity as the speaker was preparing – in the style of TV celebrity chef Nigella Lawson – flatbread and gazpacho!

And, over dinner, participants were exposed to the secrets of the traditional South African dessert, Malva Pudding. Where did the name come from? And what is the authentic recipe for this great South African favourite?

Turns out there are three plausible answers to the first question, while two recipes lay claim to authenticity – both of these were on hand to taste.

Mix of disciplines

The academic presentations were drawn from a mix of disciplines – not all in the humanities. But the texture of each presentation lifted the conversation towards a shared grammar, which encouraged thinking way beyond narrow categories that invariably police disciplinary silos.

There is an invaluable intellectual lesson here for interdisciplinary work in the humanities: a single topic – if it is well-chosen – can encourage disciplinary categories to overlap. But to succeed, they must have an everyday familiarity, like food, that shares a sufficient common language in which all disciplines can engage.

The Pretoria event showed something more besides such generalities: talking about food is a productive way to understand a complex world.

Food is the very stuff of life. And, at its core, is human sociability. Around this, myth and legend abound – although there was very little of this sentimentality in the stuffy seminar room.

Instead, the kitchen was called a place of “harrowing intimacies”; that the term “Cape Malay” – as in “Cape Malay food” – was a way to hide the fact that this country had experienced 176 years of slavery; and that cookbooks, for all their celebratory – not to mention scrumptious – tones, were a way of organising time.

So it was that the sharper edges of the humanities – critique, deconstruction, political economy – opened orthodox “food studies” to searching questions.

Hunger versus food security

Why has the force of public management discourse erased the word “hunger” from its lexicon, replacing it with the less emotionally charged term, “food security”?

What are we to do with a world in which starvation is often the destiny of the poor, and obesity the plight of the rich? Can we reframe all politics through the idea of “food justice” which – almost everywhere – is shot through with questions around race?

Tough questions, these – questions that only the humanities are licensed to ask it seems. And finding answers to them – and the many others that were tabled – requires imagination that lies beyond the regular intellectual junk food of neoliberal thought.

But food – how we speak of it, how we prepare it, how we eat it – is deeply entwined both in ourselves and in our respective cultures. It is also personal, epistemological and political.

This does not mean that food is not a place for cultural mixing; it certainly is – probably, it is the most successful site. But the dinner table is almost a place where the shame of poverty is most acutely experienced. It is where the vulgarity of opulence is at its most shameful.

Unsurprisingly, South Africa is the exemplar of these extremes: a 2016 study by Africa Check reported that seven million South Africans reported “experiencing feeling hungry” in a 2014 nationally representative survey.

Against the backdrop of this horror, an accusing finger was wagged at the so-called “tasting menu” or menu dégustation. These are trendy menus that offer small portions of several dishes as an often very expensive meal. The rich of Johannesburg (and other wealthy cities) spend thousands to sample exotic cuisine, only to leave the best restaurants still hungry.

Did the agronomic and economic view of food and its study yield some of their traditional hold to the humanities during the two days in Pretoria? It is much too early to say. But thanks to the humanities, a deeper conversation on a universal passion may have only just begun.

Image: Hungry children stretch out their hands at a Somalian refugee camp in 2011. Sadik Gulec/Shutterstock

The Conversation

Peter Vale, Professor of Humanities and the Director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Brexit threatens Britain’s food security

The situation created by the British vote to leave the European Union is momentous for UK food. It is on a par with the Repeal of the Corn Laws of 1846 when Britain decided its Empire could feed it, not its own farmers. And it is as important as the creation of the Agriculture Act of 1947 when after two bruising wars in which the population faced serious risk of starvation, the country decided to put its food house in order – to produce more of what it could and look after the land.

Those events set the tone and framework for UK food for decades after. Brexit will do the same. It doesn’t help that the political elites are now knifing each other in a distraction from the genuine, looming effects.

My concern is that the security of food might get lost in the debacle. The UK must not let that happen. Food stocks are low in a just-in-time economy, an estimated three to five days’ worth. The UK doesn’t feed itself. It has dropped to 61% self-sufficiency, Defra reported last month. The UK has quietly become a “neo-imperialist” food economy, using other people’s land and low wage labour to feed people while consumers subsidise rich landowners and keep their land values high. The UK gets 30% of UK food from the EU. That rises to 40% for horticultural produce, of which consumers eat too little for health.

Shelf life?
Erica Zabowski/Flickr, CC BY-ND


The Brexit vote was always a risk. That’s why we in the Food Research Collaboration, a 500+ network of academics and civil society (www.foodresearch.org.uk), wrote and published reports assessing the food situation in the UK and EU. Our verdict is sober. Brexit looks likely to mean destabilisation just when we need to focus on pressing issues like food’s impact on climate change and obesity. In the short term, a weaker pound means imports cost more. And the UK’s food system is already pretty vulnerable to shock. Chief scientists have been warning as much for years.

In truth, the EU’s leadership on food and agriculture has been timid. We should not forget, however, that there have been important gains from Europe: cleaner water, controls on agrichemicals, tougher food standards. But as the UK cuts loose, a decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development will be exposed. Are Brexiters ready to go into the picking fields and factories where foreigners work?

Part of the challenge now is the UK’s love of cheap food. This was the legacy of the Repeal of the Corn Laws which sought cheap food for workers. Cheapness as efficiency is still central to the neoliberal project today, as Michael Gove stated in the referendum campaign. But in food, cheapness encourages waste and makes us fat. Good diets are too expensive for the poor.

UK farming: ploughing a lonely furrow?
Anguskirk/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The UK faces harsh food times ahead, but they have been a long time coming. Diet-related ill-health is very costly. Life expectancy gaps are shocking in an unequal society. The Brexit victors are worryingly vague about what to do next. There was no plan for farming, according to Liz Truss, the Secretary of State at Defra.

My understanding is that some attempts are now underway but Defra is so weakened, we cannot expect much. Some Brexiters want a quick food exit, a total severance of regulations negotiated at Brussels, especially environmental and health ones. Others do not. Some want an end to farm subsidies. Others merely seek their repatriation. It is worth noting here that despite the image of an the EU run by totalitarian eurocrats, how many know there are just 1,000 civil servants running the vast EU Common Agricultural Policy compared to 2,000 civil servants running England’s (let alone Scotland’s or Wales’) agriculture?

The referendum debate was dominated by migration, national identity and by the nebulous idea of “taking back control”. But there’s still no clarity from Brexiters about whether the role model is to be Norway, Albania, Canada or Switzerland. Most Brexit leaders aren’t even considering that food arrives on our plates from shops not farms. In fact, food traders rule the modern food economy. Millions of food contracts depend on cross continental supply chains. It’s why roads are clogged with food wagons. The food system is heavily tied into Europe. To sever this web will be a task awesome and unprecedented in complexity.

Risky talks

To make matters worse, the Labour shadow Cabinet Minister on Food, Environment & Rural Affairs, Kerry McCarthy, a decent person interested in her brief, has resigned. This makes it all the more important for forces and views outside Parliament to get our act together and articulate what we think is needed as the country negotiates a new future. Some such meetings are being organised.

No such thing as a free lunch.
Laura Billings/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Brexit negotiations, if they do happen, must not be an excuse to hand over more wealth to the already wealthy or let only the well-off be well fed. There are already major challenges to the food system as the UK seeks to decarbonise it and shift diets away from overconsumption of ultra-processed foods – the major cause of non-communicable disease.

There is a risk that health and environment are side-lined to the edges of policy reformulation. If the Brexiters hark back to UK self-determination, they need to be reminded that the reality was a mix of Empire-sourcing or panicky direct action in wars, most plainly exposed in 1939. The Brexit euphoria won’t last long if food prices rise or shelves empty. This needs planning. And that’s not what the Brexit elite want. They believe markets rule. But not many of them know what a real food market looks like. They think it’s what happens on brokers’ dealing screens, not what we are able to put on our families’ plates.

The Conversation

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Six reasons why food is a really big deal

It’s easy to forget the power of what is on our dinner plate.

Between the Instagram post, or the quick fix meal, the snack at our desk or the breakfast on the run – it’s not a surprise we might overlook the incredible potential in our food. What and how we eat, and the systems that produce it.

Our food is more than simply a source of calories – or even a labour of love. As our global community faces some serious and time-bound health challenges, what’s being served is a world of opportunities.

Let me share with you just six reasons why.


In 2015, the global community through the United Nations, unveiled the Sustainable Development Goals. A road-map for equitable development and planet-wide prosperity by 2030, it’s an ambitious, holistic and truly global blueprint for prioritisation and action on a wide range of issues.

Outlined in 17 Goals and 169 Targets, Goal 2 focuses specifically on food: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. But as momentum builds for the realisation of these Goals, governments and civil society are increasingly realising the importance of food and food systems in achieving ambitions far beyond Goal 2. In fact it is suggested that between 12 and 15 of the 17 Goals will only be fully achieved through investment and action on food and food systems.

Ending poverty requires adequate nutrition for those poorest, while 500 million people on this planet continue to earn a living from smallholder farming. Water and sanitation are deeply linked to food production methods and farming systems. Resilient, inclusive cities will not only require healthy urban food systems, but are also a platform for achieving them. The list goes on.

In short, many now argue that Sustainable Development will only be possible through a focus on ending malnutrition – reshaping our food and diets, and the systems and environments that produce and influence them.


We all seem to be blindly focused on economic growth as the sole measure for communal success. We talk about knowledge economies and knowledge-intensive sectors. Something we almost always overlook though, is that education attainment and economic productivity are both linked to adequate, good food.

Poor nutrition is associated with reduced cognitive function in individuals, delayed school enrolment, impaired concentration, increased illness and absenteeism and early school drop-out – one reports suggests that malnutrition can result in up to 20% lower earning capacity by adulthood. Compared to healthy children, worldwide, children who go without adequate food for long periods are 19% less likely to be able to read, and 12% less likely to write simple sentences by the age of eight, decreasing an individual’s ability to take advantage of development resources and poverty alleviation opportunities.

Conversely, the education of girls improves gender equity, empowerment and maternal and child health outcomes – including better nutrition in the following generation.

In short, knowledge economies require knowledge diets – and healthy food systems. If we want economic growth and sustained social and economic development, then we need to invest in the systems and environments that support nutrition.


While food offers a world of solutions, it also presents some serious challenges for global health. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, food is a leading risk factor for deaths and disability worldwide.

In fact in 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide, 18 years and older, were overweight, while more than 600 million were obese. 462 million were underweight. In the same year, 41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese but 159 million were affected by stunting, resulting from chronic undernutrition. While 50 million children were wasted. In low- and middle-income countries, almost five million children continue to die of undernutrition-related causes every year yet simultaneously these same populations now witness a rise in childhood overweight and obesity – increasing at a rate 30% faster than in richer nations.

The food system, what we eat and very importantly the environment in which we eat it – including the pervasive advertising and commodified urban food systems – have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of our global populations.


When it comes to food, it is not just about what we grow and do eat – it’s also about what we grow and don’t eat. An estimated one in three mouthfuls of food is wasted in this world every day. The same world where just under half a billion people continue to be underweight. In poorer nations, this waste generally occurs pre-market and can be part-solved by simple technologies in transport, packaging and refrigeration. In wealthier countries, the majority of waste occurs after market and in our homes. This is where buying less but more frequently, avoiding impulse buys and taking measures to reduce the “buy one get one free” that incentivise over-purchasing, is all key.


Finally, we cannot talk about the power of food and not mention climate change. Today, the food systems of the world account for up to 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all sea, air and land transport combined. The way we grow, process, transport, market, consume and waste food is a major concern for our planet’s health. And therefore our health too.

Reaching far beyond methane from cows, it’s also about run-off from chemical fertilisers that cause damage to water bodies, a reliance of fossil fuel-intensive methods, deforestation and replacement with monoculture agriculture, salinification of soils resulting for poor farming practices and overfishing of our oceans – the links are numerous. These are all linked to the climate and have an enormous impact on the local and global ecology.

Combined with the fact that we waste one-third of what we grow and very often live in food environments conducive to over-consumption, there is a great deal of room for small individual changes to have drastic, positive, collective effects.

We’re all in this

Finally, food is a really big deal because most of us love it – and all of us need it. Regardless of our political persuasions, our demographics, or our personal beliefs, food is something we all share. More than this, food is something that we all have ownership in and engage with at least three times every day.

The sad news is that it is a major driver of harm and disease, but the good news is that it is also an unparalleled opportunity for collective action. Small changes across 7.4 billion dinner plates will add up very quickly.

In a world where the problems can sometimes seem out of reach, and beyond comprehension, food is also our connection back to the very real issues we all face together.

Our food offers each of us an important seat at the solutions dining table. Let’s be sure to recognise the power in what we’re being served.

The Conversation

Alessandro R Demaio, Medical Doctor; Co-Founded NCDFREE and festival21; Associate Researcher, University of Copenhagen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: World map of Energy consumption Wikimedia, CC BY-NC