Leaders’ Series 2017 with Nestlé: Food Safety: Room for improvement

17 February 2017  •  Author(s): John O'Brien, Nestlé Health Science

In the context of food, the next 20-40 years will be the most important ever!

Significantly, the systems that deliver food to our table are under enormous pressure. Forty percent of all arable land on earth is used for agriculture; 70% of freshwater goes to agriculture; and 25% of greenhouse gasses come from agriculture. However, food losses pre-and post-harvest and food waste post production can reach 60-80% in some cases. It is notable that the current global production of food is enough to feed its entire population one and a half times, yet one in eight people suffer from chronic malnutrition. 800 million humans currently go hungry; two billion have diets that lack micronutrients and 1.9 billion are overweight or obese.

The challenges facing food safety are no less daunting. Despite having the safest food supply in history, many consumers in the West remain highly concerned about their food. In parallel, society is witnessing a ‘trust shift’ from trust in the traditional institutions to social trust in the so-called collaborative economy. There are marked generational differences in attitudes to food among consumer groups (e.g. millennials vs generations X and Y vs baby boomers). Science is also under pressure. This is reflected in the decision of the Oxford Dictionaries to propose ‘posttruth’ as Word of the Year 2016.

Post-truth is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Fortunately, there are remedies to the above challenges, but they mean transforming our thinking about food production, manufacture and consumption. This will include discarding some past thinking and adopting new paradigms and tools.

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