The first topics to be tackled by the consortium in the SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) project focus on food and farming. Working with the other partners in the European Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM), the two topics under investigation are New Techniques in Agricultural Biotechnology and Food from the Ocean.
Louise Edwards, the Cardiff Hub Manager, has joined the SAM Review Team looking at the first of these.
With this in mind, Louise attended a panel discussion on food and its sustainability on 30th November. Hosted at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, a panel of experts from across the UK considered how research and innovation can contribute to global efforts to tackle challenges around food security. Each panellist selected a three-course menu to highlight the diversity of technologies and approaches across science and industry.
Professor Achim Dobermann, Director of Rothamsted Research, set the context for the event, referring to the progress made in agriculture but underlining the need for a holistic approach going forward. He assessed each menu based on whether it was healthy and nutritious, supported good farming practices and, crucially, whether it was both feasible and affordable.
The approaches taken by the panel were wide-ranging.
Professor Katherine Denby (University of York) stressed the benefits of big data for tracking genes for disease resistance and precision agriculture, with a need for growing biodiversity. Professor Helen Sang (Roslin Institute) was keen on locally-grown food, with GM-based solutions. Dr Grant Stentiford (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture) spoke about aquaculture and the importance of doubling the size of the sector to satisfy demand. Professor Les Firbank (University of Leeds) considered the changing environment (political, social and cultural, as well as ecological) in putting together his menu. Tom Webster (GrowUp Urban Farms) was unique on the panel in being a commercial food producer, operating the UK’s first commercial-scale aquaponics urban farm, in London.
In the audience discussion, a number of themes emerged. These included the emphasis on locally-grown food; the importance of less food waste; the potential loss of a symbiotic relationship with nature and livestock; the current addiction to cheap food and the disinclination to meet its true cost; and the opportunity for increasing demand in the West for plant-based diets.
For more on the debate, photos and the winning menu, go to the Twitter hashtag: #FutureMenu.