The challenge of providing healthy, sustainable and equitable diets for all

Professor Sir Charles Godfray FRS
Tuesday, 17 January 2023
Science Seminar Series

The talk will begin by describing the challenges facing the global food system in the 21st century.  Demand will continue to grow, but at a decelerating rate, possibly plateauing this century.  Farming will face increasing competition for resources, especially land and water.  Harder to predict are the biophysical and geopolitical shocks the food system is likely to experience, of which climate change is paramount: were the global food system to continue unaltered in coming decades it alone would push global warming above the 1.5 degree safe threshold.  And a present and increasing issue is poor diets leading to the diseases of over-consumption while others still cannot afford the food they need.

Though the challenges are great we have a broad armoury of measures and interventions to address them, providing we have the political will.  And while the global food system is huge and complex there is also a simplicity to what we need to do.  Given the magnitude of the threats ahead we need action on all fronts – diets, production, waste and governance – no single aspect can do all the heavy lifting.  Dietary change will involve eating less meat, a particularly fraught issues given the interests involved and the reluctance of politicians to intrude on personal diet choices.  Changes to farming will be of a magnitude not seen since the industrial and green revolutions, and we will likely see a major increase in non-land-based food production.  Many people will be negatively affected by these changes and crafting a “just transition” that protects the interests of the least powerful will be essential to achieving a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system.