EU science community urge an evidence-based approach in solving food security lapses

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/
©iStock/

Related tags: Food safety, Agriculture

Scientific research and innovation must underpin efforts in tackling issues such as food safety and waste that blight nutritional and agricultural ecosystems, according to a European science consortium.

The project, which gathered 130 science academies located in Europe, calls for an evidence-based approach to address public health issues such as obesity as well as climate change, food contamination and waste reduction.

Solutions put forward include the introduction of climate-smart food systems, genome editing, precision agriculture and the use of large datasets.

“Large datasets, based on comparable and verifiable methodology, are a vital tool to support innovation throughout the food system and to prepare for risk and uncertainty,”​ said the report, published by the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

“There is much to be done to fill data gaps, to agree improved procedures for data collection, curation, analysis and sharing, while also addressing data ownership and privacy concerns.”

EASAC’s interest in pushing for a science-led approach stems from commitments made in United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 that provide a policy framework for understanding and meeting the challenges.

EASAC have been encouraging fresh engagement by science to resolve the complexities of these evidence-based policies and programmes.

CAP reform overdue?

Along with using data sets, the report​ sets out more recommendations that could better connect scientific knowledge on natural resources to the food value chain.

This includes a focus on vulnerable groups such as mothers and children, the elderly, patients and migrants, requiring systematic, longitudinal data collection to generate specific consumer behaviour.

Evidence that contributed to a reform of the present Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was also put forward in devising a European Union (EU) food and nutrition policy that rewarded innovation, reduced risks and focused on public goods.

“EU development assistance should be viewed broadly, to include international collaborative research; research in the EU on priorities for global food systems, their resilience and perturbations,”​ the report said.

“The assistance should also include sharing of science and technology especially related to food and nutrition security; and resolution of international governance issues of food and agriculture.”

The report, a result of a two-year analysis by the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) global network, also discuss how these actions could be used to generate, connect and use research.

In nutrition, food choices and food safety, the need was there to tackle the “perverse” price incentives offered in the consumption of high-calorie diets with new incentives for healthy nutrition urgently needed.

Along with renewed efforts to promote research interfaces between nutrition, food science and technology, the public sector and industry, the report also called for sources of food contamination to be characterised as well as creating opportunities for reducing food safety concerns.

These concerns may arise from implementation of other policy objectives, for example, the circular economy goal of recycling of waste materials.

Innovation focus

The report’s authors also predicted the relationship between basic science and problem-solving applied science would become more closely related in the future.

Here innovation would take a leap forward with advances in the fields of biosciences, digitisation, and farm precision technologies, health and behaviour expected as well as in environmental and food system modelling.

“This has consequences for the redesign of the science landscape and for science teaching and the training of next-generation scientists to address food, nutrition and agriculture issues,”​ the report added.

“We emphasise the key role of agricultural sciences for European competitiveness and urge a rebalancing of commitments: to shift budget items from agricultural subsidies towards innovation in the pending reform of the CAP.”

The report wanted the messages expressed to receive attention from European and national policymakers, member academies, the scientific community and other stakeholders.

“We will also use this analysis of European evidence as the regional contribution to the IAP integrated phase of the project, to develop interregional and global recommendations.”

Related topics: Sustainability, Regulation & Policy

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