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Food – Impacts and Implications

In the next decade, the world economics of food will change and food will change the economics of the world.
Investment in food production, research and technology development must become a priority. Consumers and society in general will need to become more literate in science and more science education will be required for the population to understand and accept the technology required to feed the world: The natural / local / authenticity trend may become obsolete. The global community (governments, academia and industry) will need to collaborate in a much more effective way or face the societal, ethical and political consequences of large portions of the population not having the food they need. World food production and agriculture must become more globally integrated ‐ A true working world market will be required. Decisions on where and what to produce must be made on a global basis not on an individual market or geography. Political and societal pressure for change will increase as the population and need for affordable food increases in Asia, Africa and India and the disparity between the West and emerging economies around food becomes even more stark.

As a result, the dietary habits of consumers may well change due to availability and the prices of agricultural materials: For example, western populations may need to adjust to consuming more plant based sources of protein as their choices for protein may decrease. In addition, driven by economic and/or political pressure, consumers may also be required to change their food shopping habits.

The future of food will have major implications for many other areas: The supply of energy; the use of water; the processing of waste and the state of our health are all obvious arenas of direct influence, but food will also both impact and be impacted by future choice, authenticity, connectivity, work and money. Food is fundamental to economics, politics and other societal issues whether directly or as support technologies.

If we get the regulation, technology and consumer attitudes right, over the next ten years we can make a shift:
We really do have the opportunity to address the challenges presented to food by the demands of demographics, obesity, hunger and food security and the implications of globalization and sustainability. The issue is how best to do this collaboratively.

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Comments

3 Responses to “Food – Impacts and Implications”
  1. This is a very comprehensive and excellent summary of where we are and where we need to be. My additions, through a UK lens, would be twofold. First to highlight the shift we are now experiencing against organic. Some in the industry see that the regulators are starting to pave the way for the introduction of GMO into Europe in the near term. Maybe this is because the case for more intensive but sustainable agriculture is increasingly pointing in this direction. In addition, I see that most food manufacturers are yet to confront some of the big issues in the point of view. Most NPD groups with a 3 year time frame are still focused on providing more convenient, tastier and somehow-healthier products while also showing a touch of a green credential. Although the broader sustainability agenda is being supported and pushed by a wide range of bodies such as the IGD, the FDF and DEFRA, we are still focusing primarily on carbon footprints and the like.

  2. Jim has developed a pretty comprehensive picture that I share for the most parts.
    I would simply add:
    -There is a clear need to educate consumers better but also to establish a consistent, conclusive and irrefutable nutrition science to regain consumer trust.
    -With the increase of population essentially concentrated in megacities food supply will become even more challenging.
    -Convenience will still be a key requirement since people will travel farther away for work and due to the increase of dual income families across the world.
    -I do not see the natural trend disappearing due to the specific emotional dimension of food.
    -Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges with agriculture tapping already 70% of the water resources.

  3. Josh Calder says:

    I agree broadly with the outline Kirkwood lays out.

    This may place too much faith in top-down direction and shaping. For instance, he writes that “Regulation is likely that will, for example, direct land usage for meat and dairy production vs. grain.” This seems unlikely. The markets with spending power will still favor large supplies of meat and dairy. Perhaps he is suggesting more subtle levels of regulation, for instance the targeting of subsidies, and taxes at the consumer end.

    Similarly, it seems unlikely that “Decisions on where and what to produce [will] be made on a global basis not on an individual market or geography.” Bottom-up demand, represented primarily by spending power, will continue to be the central driver.

    This suggests that environmental issues will give price signals to consumers. One danger is that such signals will be too weak to redirect consumers in the developed world, while still pricing food out of reach of growing swaths of the global poor.

    Though aspects of it may come and go, I would doubt that “The natural / local / authenticity trend may become obsolete.” Authenticity is a basic value of significant segments of consumers in the developed world. If anything, related trends may grow in emerging markets as larger percentages of the population achieve upper middle-class status.

    I do not see a mechanism at hand that will make people more science-literate. Science-based solutions will need to gain traction and acceptance by other means.

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