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[EBOOK] Opportunities and challenges for research on food and nutrition security and agriculture in Europe, By EASAC

National academies of science have a long tradition of engaging widely to strengthen the evidence base to underpin the delivery of enhanced food and nutrition security at regional and national levels. EASAC, the European Academies' Science Advisory Council, has produced this report for European audiences as a contribution to a project worldwide initiated by IAP, the InterAcademy Partnership, the global network of science academies. The IAP work brings together regional perspectives in parallel from Africa. Asia, the Americas and Europe on the opportunities for the science-policy interface, identifying how research can contribute to resolving challenges for agriculture, food systems and nutrition.

Our EASAC report combines analysis of the current status in Europe with exploration of ways forward. Overconsumption of calorie-dense foods leading to overweight and obesity creates a major public health problem in Europe; but Europeans are not immune from other concerns about food and nutrition security and must also recognise the impact of their activities on the rest of the world. We define the goal of food and nutrition security as providing access for all to a healthy and affordable diet that is environmentally sustainable. We recognise the necessity to take account of diversity: in food systems and dietary intakes within and between countries, and in the variability of nuưient requirements in vulnerable groups within populations and across the individual's life cycle.

In our report we take an integrative food systems approach to cover inter-related issues for resource efficiency, environmental stability, resilience and the public health agenda, also addressing issues for local-global interconnectedness of systems. Setting priorities for increasing agricultural production through sustainable intensification must take account of pressures on other critical natural resources, particularly water, soil and energy, and the continuing need to avoid further loss in ecosystem biodiversity. Dealing with food and nutrition security must include both supply-side and demand-side issues: reducing food waste and changing to healthier consumption patterns will reduce pressure on land and other resources.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Convention on Climate Change objectives provide critically important general frameworks for meeting the challenges to food and nutrition security but mandate renewed engagement by science to clarify trade-offs among goals and address the complexities of evidence-based policies and programmes. For example, it is becoming dearer that climate change will have negative impacts on food systems in various ways, necessitating the introduction of climate-smart agriculture (such as
the adoption of plant breeding innovations to cope with drought) but also that agriculture itself contributes substantially to climate change Mitigating this contribution depends on climate-smart food systems (such as land-sparing and agronomic management practices) together with efforts to influence consumer behaviours associated with excessive agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (overconsumption of calories and high meat intake). Therefore, taking account of the accruing scientific evidence, changing dietary consumption could bring co-benefits to health and to climate change.

In our report we have focused on scientific opportunities: how the current scientific evidence base can shape understanding of challenges by the public, serve as a resource for innovation, and inform policy options, and what the research agenda should be to fill current knowledge gaps. It is urgent to continue to build critical mass in research and innovation and to mobilise that resource in advising policymakers and other stakeholders. We emphasise the vitally important role of basic research in characterising new frontiers in science and of long-term commitment to investing in research to enable, establish and evaluate innovation. This innovation must encompass social and institutional, as well as technological, innovation.

We frame our specific recommendations within die context of strategic dimensions that determine a wide range of actions in science and policy:

•    The interfaces between research on the nutrition-sensitivity of food and agriculture systems and on environmental sustainability must be addressed to connect scientific knowledge on natural resources to the food value chain. The sustainable bioeconomy and circular economy provide for new overarching frameworks, going beyond traditional concepts of economic sectors.

•    The focus cannot be only on populations in general but should also cover particular issues for vulnerable groups such as mothers and children, the elderly, patients and migrants. This requires systematic, longitudinal data collection to generate robust resources, together with cross-disciplinary research, encompassing economics and social sciences as well as the natural sciences, to understand vulnerable groups and the more general aspects of consumer behaviour.

•    Large data sets, based on comparable and verifiable methodology, are a vital tool to support innovation throughout the food system and to prepare for risk and uncertainty. There is much to be done to fill data gaps, to agree improved procedures for data collection, curation, analysis and sharing, while also addressing data ownership and privacy concerns.

•    To contribute with evidence to options for reform of the present Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) towards devising a European Union (EU) food and nutrition policy that rewards innovation, reduces risks, focusses on public goods, takes account of the varying national interests and cultures, and contributes to benefitting the rest of the world.

•    EU development assistance should be viewed broadly, to include international collaborative research; research in the EU on prionties for global food systems, their resilience and perturbations; sharing of science and technology especially related to food and nutrition security; and resolution

of international governance issues of food and agriculture.

•    Ensuring that regulatory and management frameworks are evidence-based, proportionate and sufficiently flexible to prepare for and enable advances in science.

Within this overall framework for European strategy

development, our report identifies many opportunities

to generate, connect and use research. Among specific

scientific opportunities are the following.

Nutrition, food choices and food safety

•    Understanding the drivers of dietary choices, consumer demand and how to inform and change behaviour, including acceptance of innovative foods and innovative diets.

•    Tackling the perverse price incentives to consume high-calorie diets and introducing new incentives for healthy nutrition.

•    Clarifying what is a sustainable, healthy diet and how to measure sustainability related to consumption.

•    Exploring individual responsiveness to nutrition and the links to health.

•    Promoting research interfaces between nutrition, food science and technology, the public sector and industry.

•    Evaluating how to make food systems more nutrition-sensitive.

•    Characterising sources of food contamination and the opportunities for reducing food safety concerns
that may arise from implementation of other policy objectives (for example, the circular economy goal of recycling of waste materials).

•    Compiling analytical tests to authenticate food origin and quality.

•    Assessing any disconnects between the implications of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) objectives for livestock and meat consumption, and standard recommendations for consuming healthy diets.

Plants and animals in agriculture

•    For livestock, determining how to capitalise on genomics research for food production and for animal health and welfare. This includes the rapidly advancing science of genome editing and the increasing significance of charaơerising genetic material conserved in gene banks.

•    For the oceans, improving the knowledge base for sustainable harvest and culturing of lower trophic level marine resources and exploring the potential for biomass provision to diminish pressures on agricultural land, freshwater and fertilisers.

•    For crops, progressing understanding of the genetics and metabolomics of plant product quality. This also includes capitalising on the new opportunities coming within range for the targeted modification of crops using genome editing.

•    For plants as for animal science, it is important to protect wild gene pools and to continue sequencing of genetic resources to unveil the potential of genetic resources.

Environmental sustainability

•    Evaluating climate resilience throughout food systems and transforming food systems to mitigate their global warming impact.

•    Capitalising on opportunities to co-design research across disciplines to understand better the nexus food-water-other ecosystem services and to inform the better coordination of relevant policy instruments, including the CAP, Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive. Efforts to increase the efficiency of food systems should not focus on increasing agricultural productivity by ignoring environmental costs.

•    Developing an evidence base to underpin land and water use in providing the range of private and public goods required in a sustainable way, appropriate to place.

Regarding biofuel choices, the immediate research objectives for the next generation of biofuels include examining the potential of cellulosic raw materials.

•    Research should continue to explore the value of synthetic biology and other approaches to engineer systems with improved photosynthesis. There is also continuing need for research to clarify impacts of biomass production on land use and food prices.

•    For soil, expanding research to understand and quantify the potential value of soil in carbon sequesưation and, hence, climate change mitigation. There is a broad research agenda to characterise other functions of soil and the soil microbiome and contribute to the bioeconomy, for example as a source of novel antibiotics. Research is also important to support cost-effective soil monitoring and management, particularly to underpin the reduced use of fertilisers and improve biodiversity.


•    Committing to the collection of more robust data on the extent of waste in food systems and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce waste at local and regional levels.

•    Ensuring the application of food science and technology and agronomy in novel approaches to processing food and reducing waste, and

in informing the intersection between circular economy and bioeconomy policy objectives.

Trade and markets

•    Increasing commitment to data colleơion on trade flows and prices with modelling and analysis of databases.
•    Examining linkages between extreme events and price volatility, evaluating the effects of regulatory policy instruments in agricultural commodity markets and the price transmission between global commodity markets and local food systems.

•    Ascertaining the science agenda for understanding the characteristics of fair trade systems, for example the non-tariff conditions associated with variation in regulatory policy, labelling or other food safety requirements.

Innovation trends

In each of the above-mentioned specific areas of science opportunities, the linkages between basic science and problem-solving applied science seem likely to become more closely related in the future. This is so in the fields of biosciences, digitisation, mathematics and farm precision technologies, health and behaviour, as well as in complex environmental and food system modelling. This has consequences for the redesign of the science landscape and for science teaching and the training of next-generation scientists to address food, nutrition and agriculture issues.

We emphasise the key role of agricultural sciences for European competitiveness and urge a rebalancing of commitments: to shift budget items from agricultural subsidies towards innovation in the pending reform of the CAP.

It is now important to be more ambitious in identifying and using the scientific opportunities. Our messages are aimed at European and national policymakers, member academies, the scientific community and other stakeholders. We will also use this analysis of European evidence as the regional contribution to the IAP integrated phase of the project, to develop interregional and global recommendations.

[EBOOK] Opportunities and challenges for research on food and nutrition security and agriculture in Europe, By EASAC

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