Food security will be a major challenge for the world in the next decade. Some estimates for the world population challenge the world food supply with 2.5 billion new consumers in the next 40 years. My argument is that it is not enough to produce more food, it is essential that we have the right food.
Today the route from under-nutrition to malnutrition and overweight is very short. This will send poor people from one problem into an even greater problem for society. The fact that more than one billion people lack food is terrible, and that the world population is growing fast does not make it more acceptable. Combined with a world growing epidemic of obesity where an estimated 2 billion (BMI > 27) people now are fast moving in the wrong direction, generate a scary picture.
When WHO makes an estimate of the volume of non-commutable diseases (70 % of all deaths), they attribute 40-50 % of these to have a relationship to food, direct or indirect. When the medical world, during the Copenhagen Research Forum in January 2012, listed the seven biggest medical challenges, they found five of these to have a strong relationship to food intake. Obesity, cardio vascular diseases, diabetes II, certain types of cancer and several types of inflammation are all obvious examples. Together these challenges represent a major proportion of all health costs, as these are the most expensive to treat in retrospect. I argue that it is cheaper not to get sick, so the preventive use of food must be focused.
Growth in government health budgets are often three times the growth in national state budgets, so every year treatment of food related disease steal from all other budget posts (schools, infrastructure and social welfare). Preventive use of good nutritious food could bring budget growth for disease to a sustainable level, and we must. If you have 2 billion to spend and health crave 1 billion today, you will need it all for health in 25 years if these costs grow at twice the rate of society in average. Hardly a sustainable development.
In my opinion health costs in Europe already surpass countries solvency. My perception is that health costs already contribute to a reduced living standard, and is a negative amplifying spiral, and therefore a major issue for sustainability. This will eventually happen in several parts of the world and add to social and class differences, eventually this must be seen as a component in social unrest in line with the increasing raw material prices.
When there is economic growth, as we see in most of the world outside of Europe right now, more people get economic muscles to improve their food supply. As the cheapest food still is starch, sugars and fat, (salt and saturated fatty acids for secure preservation), this will become the bulk of the diet for the lower income groups in all countries. An excessive use of these components, also make up the main ingredient in lifestyle diseases we cannot afford. So the road from increased buying power for the population to catastrophic health costs for society is very short.
The biggest problem, as I see this, is balance. Otherwise we go from one problem to a bigger problem. Obesity is already a problem for more than one third of the worlds’ population, growing at an alarming rate. Enough food to the growing worlds’ population is therefore not just a question about calories, but just as much about what is eaten and how. Money for the individual will provide buying power enough to survive, but for society it becomes a problem if the consequence is increased obesity and food related disease.
To achieve balance, price is essential. Today the backbone of price is wheat, corn and rice, and we have seen a doubling of world market price in a few years. This has driven all other prices up, as many of the other foods rely on wheat/rice for their production (dairy and meat). Because of the way we eat today, demand for wheat, corn and rice is extremely high, too high, as wheat, corn and rice also are sources of energy, and few other valuable nutritional components, they are not necessarily the best. A switch to right sources of nutrition is necessary and must be an integrated part of the discussion of food security and sustainable growth.
For example, other grains than wheat, corn and rice are better foods. From a nutritional point of view, these are now mainly used for feed. Eaten by humans, barley, rye and oat reach longer and provide better nutrition. Vegetables are desperately needed in improved diets, and they do not require land use in the same way as wheat, and can be given a focus in an innovative approach. The last and not least element in this discussion is the marine resources. Marine foods contribute nutritionally highly adequate sources of protein and fat, and are therefore important. Wild marine resources are poorly administrated in the world and catch is diminishing. World agreement on strict resource management is necessary in order to maintain future catch. The same is an evaluation of aquaculture production. Today only 20 % aquaculture production is according to optimal principles, and a doubling of volume is possible with existing facilities. But this demand government involvement and competence, another prerequisite for sufficient and sustainable food production.