Some possible solutions to assist feeding the world in 2050 - part 2 - Veterinary Practice
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Some possible solutions to assist feeding the world in 2050 – part 2

Dr TONY ANDREWS continues his discussion of the challenges facing food producers in feeding an everexpanding global population and offers a number of possible solutions in meeting them

IT is estimated that roughly a third (about 1.3 billion tonnes per annum) of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year (Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2011).

The reasons are different between less developed countries, where much fresh food perishes before it can reach the end consumer, and the developed countries where much is wasted by ensuring visual conformity, over-purchase and discarding edible food.

Thus, most waste in developing countries is at the early and middle stages of the food supply. It is due to inadequate housing, poor cooling and storage techniques and then poor methods of marketing or distribution.

It has been suggested that the situation could be improved by farmers developing co-operatives, which can then make better use of improved methods of harvesting and storage but while improving local availability of food it will not assist nationally or internationally without improving the logistics and communications for moving and distributing the food to consumers.

In the more developed countries, much of the problem is due to consumer attitudes and behaviour, which in many countries is guided by the supermarkets or other large food retailers or the large international fastfood chains.

Relaxation of quality standards by supermarkets has possibly occurred to reduce rejects, but not to a very noticeable extent. The determined will to educate or enforce better buying and eating habits of customers still appears absent.

Recycle waste

After land availability and suitable fresh water provision, the ability to reduce, manage and recycle human and animal faecal waste and food waste are major potential limiting factors to food production.

Activities to recycle faeces into material suitable for fertiliser and as a feed source do require further development as well as research. The removal of pathogens is mainly not complex but removal of potentially toxic ingredients is more problematic.

Already some units are producing suitable materials for use as fertilisers; others are using the waste for production of insects and earthworms. Other novel methods to recycle waste are needed.

There is no real reason why suitably treated food from animals and plants (processed animal protein) should not be fed to monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry. The main considerations are animal diseases and zoonoses.

The practice was stopped in Europe following the UK foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001, although the probable source of the outbreak appeared to have been inadequately treating waste food, as required by law, before feeding it to pigs, so it appears to have been an enforcement issue and not a nutritional problem.

This could be overcome by having specific registered sites off-farm to treat the food for distribution as happened with so-called “Tottenham pudding” in the First and Second World Wars. It should also be possible to make the material produced have a higher dry matter content and be less odoriferous.

In sea fishing, high weights of fish are returned to the sea as fish discards. These are often dead, dying or damaged fish. If retained they could act as a major feed source for many types of farmed fish and in some cases humans.

Waste from some farms, vegetable and fruit packaging and processing stations, etc., is already being fed by farmers, mainly to cattle. There is no reason why this should not be extended to all such waste and penalties introduced for not undertaking some recycling.

Some of the in-date waste from supermarkets, manufacturers and other shops is already being collected and distributed to charities. More should be done to ensure collection of all food waste from supermarkets, fast-food outlets and restaurants to be made into animal feed.

In addition, a very radical policy should be introduced aimed at consumers to play their part in reducing waste and overconsumption. In the UK in 2008, about 15% of all food and drink that could have been consumed was wasted with highest levels of 32% for bread and 24% for potatoes and vegetables (DEFRA, 2010).

Alter food consumption

There seems to be new developing rhetoric to change food demand to meet the needs of public and environmental health.

In many developed countries there is considerable education required to restrict food consumption, especially intakes of fat, starch and sugar, thereby reducing the problems of obesity, diabetes mellitus, dental caries, etc.

Many also consider that there should be a switch of some of the 40% of global agricultural biomass from feeding animals to human food. Producing crops that can be consumed by man or animals allows switching between the two and often there are by-products from the use in foods which can be utilised as animal feed. Historically, the creation of many animal feed companies was based on the use of such by-products.

The sensitivities in some cultures over the types of food that are eaten may also need to change. Whilst many are prepared to eat invertebrates such as seafood (prawns, etc.), they are not inclined to eat others such as insects.

The same sensitivities occur in different countries as to the types of animal used to provide meat, such as horses. Diners not used to certain types of fish will reject them until suitably familiarised with them.

Utilise animals efficiently

Provided countries co-operate there is in the author’s opinion no reason why sufficient food cannot be produced, including animal products. Others, however, are becoming more pessimistic: as countries develop there is a tendency to overconsumption.

Up until now as national GDP has improved, so has consumption of animal products increased. However, in many places GDP is dependent on manufacturing and exporting goods or providing services.

The former requires materials which unless fully recyclable or sustainable will be depleting further global finite resources. As such the economic model will need to change, not least in emphasis.

As food becomes more scarce then its price will rise and countries exporting food are likely to see a comparative rise in their GDP compared with those just manufacturing. In general, all countries should aim at self-sufficiency in those food products which can be produced economically.

Consumers will need to start to respect food and those who produce it and also to understand that there will be a need for all food prices, both essential and luxury, to gradually increase above that of inflation levels.

Food produced from animals does supply a good and variable source of protein; however, the efficiency of production is variable and an indication is given in Table 1.

In general, meat production from fish, rabbits, pigs and poultry is more efficient than from ruminants. However, the monogastric groups usually rely on cereals and plant protein sources that could be directly utilised by humans and so there is dire competition between these farm animals and man. Mainly they do not directly use areas of pasture which are basically reliant on herbivores to convert them into digestible protein and so have their place.

When looking at the GHG argument, in all food animal species, intensification reduces the effect and it would appear to be the main way forward. If the majority of production is of this type it will reduce land use and allow smaller niche-type production to continue for those who wish to pay a premium for such food.

Organic farming probably falls into this category and in many ways it is attempting to ensure sustainable production with improving soil fertility. It has been suggested, however, that production per unit area cannot meet the demands of increased production. Perhaps the use of a semi-sustainable form of production will allow increased production and relative individual farm self-sufficiency to occur.

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