January 26, 2011, 9:13 am

Scientists have warned that the era of cheap food is over, and predict that prices are likely to increase significantly in coming decades, mainly down to the rise in the global population and a shift towards the consumption of increased amounts of meat and dairy produce.

The major study into the future of farming has said that governments will need to embrace new agricultural techniques, including genetically modified (GM) crops to boost the quantity of food produced.

The scientists who compiled the report, The Future of Food and Farming warn that the existing food system is failing in two major ways:

Nearly a billion people in the world are left hungry, with another billion suffering from dietary deficiencies.
At the same time, agriculture is continuing to degrade the natural environment in a fundamentally unsustainable way.
The report by the Foresight Project on Global Food and Farming Futures in the Government Office for Science, said:

“Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity.”

The scientists have concluded that a second “green revolution” is needed in order to boost crop yields sufficiently but, unlike the first green revolution of the 1960s, this one must not degrade the soil, water or climate on which farming relies.

They have suggested that no new technologies, such as GM crops or animal cloning, should be excluded on ethical or moral grounds.

Professor Charles Godfray of Oxford University, the chairman of the report’s expert group said:

“To a good approximation, there is no new land that can be brought into agriculture.

“We’re going to have to produce more food from the same area, and we need to do this by sustainable intensification.

“Some increase in prices is almost inevitable.”

The report rejected the idea that nations must become self-sufficient in food.

It put forward the argument that global trade would be better at ensuring food is distributed from “bread basket regions” to where it is needed most.

The scientists have predicted that food prices will increase in real terms by at least 50% over the next 40 years, due to supply shortages as demand rises in line with a growing world population.

Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist commented on the report. He said:

“There’s a very large risk of quite a substantial increase in food prices in the next 30 to 40 years.

“This risk is such that it demands urgent action on all components of the food system: supply, demand and making the food system work more efficiently.”


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