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Back to Symposium 2015

Sustainability of the global food supply

John D. Floros John D. Floros, PhD

Kansas State University, U.S.

Scientific and technological developments over the last century transformed our food supply into a global, enormously complex, and extremely sophisticated system that has successfully achieved a safe, nutritious, abundant, and sustainable food supply for healthier people everywhere. However, numerous articles in the popular press, books, movies, TV series, and social media use compelling arguments, with some truths, and seductively simplistic—sometimes misleading—approaches to blame science and technology, “industrial agriculture” and the “industrial food system” for many of the problems that afflict our society today.

Nevertheless, projected increases in human population, greater urbanization, changing consumption patterns, and an improved diet indicate that current food production levels must be raised substantially, and production and processing methods must be improved significantly over the next few decades. In addition, our food system faces other serious challenges, including significant food losses and waste, environmental and climate changes, water pollution and shortage, soil erosion and nutrient depletion, limited food accessibility and malnutrition, overconsumption and obesity, longer human lifespan and an aging population, food safety concerns, and threats from terrorism. Given the huge challenges facing humanity today, and the severe criticisms of our modern food system, the question still remains: Will we be able to feed 9 billion people in a few decades or 11 billion people by the end of the century in a sustainable way?

In order to address these challenges and look into the future, food scientists and technologists will need to work closely with chemists, biochemists, animal scientists, agronomists, horticulturists, molecular biologists, toxicologists, materials scientists, nanotechnologists, bioengineers, and other experts in informatics, nutrigenomics, medicine and health, and social and behavioral sciences to improve the food system and make life better for everyone.

Agriculture, regardless of whether it is traditional or modern, conventional or organic, small or large scale, will need more science and technology, not less, to be sustainable. And people’s food, be it fast or slow; local or global; whole, natural, fresh or processed; industrial or not, will require more food science and technology, not less.

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