As part of our debate around the future of food, we’ve invited Duncan Williamson, senior food policy officer at the WWF UK, to talk about what he thinks we should do to ensure a sustainable future.
The food system is not working. We are not feeding the world, though we produce enough food to feed over 8 billion people. There are still 1 billion people malnourished, while another 1.5 billion are overweight or obese.
This system is the largest contributor to climate change, responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, use of 70% of available freshwater, 30% of global energy, and is driving land use change and biodiversity loss.
On shaky ground
For several years now, leading scientists have been talking about a ‘perfect storm’ in around 2030, as pressures from increasing human demands for food, fresh water and energy place increasing stresses on our planet. 2030 is only 18 years away, and the journey to the perfect storm has begun.
There is drought in the US, Russia, the Southern Mediterranean and India. This will affect food supply and drive up the price of our shopping baskets – a trip to the supermarket in the UK will cost more because of these significant global events. This year is not an isolated case. In 2010, after a record breaking heat wave, Russia banned wheat exports to conserve supplies. The Sindh Floods in Pakistan in August 2011 affected at least 1.7 million acres of arable land.
What can we do? The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says we might need to produce 60% more food by 2050. They say this is one possible scenario based on ‘business as usual’. But it’s not the only solution.
If we tackle all the inherent problems of the food system: loss and waste, distribution, women’s rights, smallholder productivity and consumption, the FAO says we won’t need to produce any more food at all. Being realistic, the real figure of how much extra we must produce will be somewhere between the two extremes.
It’s a job for all of us
As consumers we need to look to our plates. We are eating the wrong foods, too much meat and highly processed food and not enough plants and we are eating far more than we need. At WWF we have demonstrated through our Livewell plate it is possible to have a sustainable diet – one that is good for the planet and for our health.
But will a healthy diet cost us more? Our work has shown that it doesn’t have to. In fact, when you look at the subsidies and tax breaks which support the food system, and the costs direct and indirect of treating diet related ill health, and the costs of replacing ecosystem service we cannot afford to not move to sustainable diets.
Retailers, food manufacturers, government and consumers all have a role to play. For too long the excuse for inaction from all stakeholders is to shift blame, saying it is not our fault. The government says it is the job of industry to police itself and it is not government’s place to tell people what to eat, though they publish nutrition guidelines. Businesses say government must lead the debate and give guidance, but no regulation please, and they only respond to consumer demand.
While as consumers we have abdicated responsibility saying we look to government to lead and we trust retailers to edit our choices for us. All the stakeholders are saying ‘it’s not my fault’. This needs to stop; it is time to move towards collective responsibility.
Knowing the impact our current methods of food production have on world resources, would you change your diet?
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Duncan Williamson of the WWF – all opinions expressed here are WWF’s own, not necessarily those of Which?