Move to focus on food systems

Wednesday, 15 March, 2006


Vital health and environmental issues such as food security and sustainable development are to be addressed after the European Science Foundation recently accepted a proposal for a new Forward Look that aims to create a broad research agenda focusing on all aspects of food systems.

The objective is to address the health and environmental issues, primarily at a European level but also from a global perspective.

The leading scientists behind this Forward Look, entitled "European Food Systems in a Changing World', hope that this study will act as a catalyst for the creation of scientific networks throughout all areas of food research. The ultimate aim is to create a self-evolving scientific agenda that will be progressively more equipped to take on major future challenges.

European food systems are changing, driven by complex technological and policy factors. Globalising trends have accompanied these changes in recent decades. For example, technological advances have changed peoples' diet through the provision of a greater range of 'convenience' or 'fast foods'. Environmental regulations have altered the conditions for the farming and fishing industries and increased public awareness has created consumer pressure in many areas including food safety and animal welfare.

The food systems landscape will be profoundly altered by all of these changes. Forward Look is the first attempt to outline what the effects of these changes will be. Through a broader understanding of the different driving forces within food systems this project will aim to deliver a research agenda which can provide additional clarity in these complex matters.

The challenges that lie within food systems are no longer only manifested through the provision of safe and healthy food. In a wider context they also strongly influence an increasing number of environmental and societal goals. A broad interdisciplinary approach, indicating a wider scope of implications throughout society, is therefore essential if we are to fully understand what can be achieved and how.

Dr Rudy Rabbinge, a main contributor to the project, commented: "The collaboration between various disciplines will result in unifying concepts, unifying methodologies, unifying approaches. This may lead to true interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research with much added value".

The researchers leading this Forward Look feel that this area of research is in need of coherence and direction. Additionally, an agenda setting mission is essential at this point due to the current high public awareness of food and nutrition issues such as BSE, GM crops and obesity. The political momentum surrounding areas such as trade and global environmental change (GEC) further underlines the timeliness of this Forward Look.

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