UK should value good science as Obama administration does

20 January 2009

Science and engineering are vital to securing a sustainable food supply at a time when the world is threatened by climate change, global population growth and limited natural resources, the Royal Society of Chemistry will say at a House of Commons event today.

President Obama has recognised the importance of scientific advice by surrounding himself with a formidable team of scientific advisers (including Steven Chu as his Nobel-prize winning energy secretary). In a speech announcing Chu's selection, Obama said: "My administration will value science. We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."

Embracing new technologies, based on good science, across the entire food supply chain is the centre piece of a major report on food sustainability to be launched on 21 January when the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP will give a keynote address, acknowledging the value of science in UK food policy.
Mr Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will speak at the House of Commons at an event looking at important facets of food production and sustainability, including primary agriculture, processing and manufacturing, distribution and retail, consumer issues, supply chain waste and issues surrounding skills and training in the food industry.  

The report, The vital ingredient: Chemical science and engineering for sustainable food, has been prepared jointly by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).

At a basic level, food security depends on securing agricultural production of crops. However sustainability throughout the food supply chain is necessary to truly achieve food security. The RSC-IChemE report says that science and engineering underpin many of the technologies that must be developed to secure food supplies in the UK.

Approximately one quarter of all food bought by consumers is thrown away each year in the UK. Science and engineering should be utilised to reduce the phenomenal amount of food wasted every year. For example, functional 'intelligent' packaging could be used to indicate whether or not food spoilage had occurred.

Other areas where chemical science and engineering can make a positive contribution across the supply chain include pest control, veterinary medicines for livestock, improving refrigeration and food storage technology, and enhancing nutritional content of food.

The report highlights the external factors that are contributing to a global food crisis - the signs of which we began to see last year. Predicted increases in the world's population (set to reach 9 billion by 2050), economic growth in emerging economies such as China and India, and limited resources (in particular energy and water) are causing food policy to rise swiftly up the political agenda.

Dr Farrah Bhatti, Royal Society of Chemistry biosciences manager, said today "Food security is a complex issue; we must recognise the relationship between climate change and all the issues involved in food production, processing, manufacturing, distribution, consumption and waste.

It is high time we paid more attention to the interconnection of water and food. In particular we need to understand that food security in the years ahead is crucially going to depend on water availability.

Energy remains another major factor. Only by embracing the wealth of technologies provided by science and engineering will we be able to secure our energy, water and food supplies in the years to come.

The challenges we face require technical solutions. These solutions will only be realised by highly skilled people working together in the food industry, academia, and Government."

This year is the Royal Society of Chemistry's 'Year of Food'. The Society will be hosting a year of events to demonstrate the vital role of chemistry in providing healthy and sustainable food.

Related Link


The vital ingredient: Chemical science and engineering for sustainable food

21 January 2009

RSC and IChemE report on the science and engineering of the production, security and sustainability of food.

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