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Summit convened to map out route to sustainable food security

19 February 2009

A meeting today in Central London is bringing together leading scientists, policymakers and funders with farmers, food manufactures and retailers to identify the challenges to delivering sustainable food security and the science we need to overcome them.

With an inexorably growing population, with global harvests threatened by climate change, the very real threat of exotic and endemic animal disease and with a global economic downturn disrupting the flow of trade, the world faces a growing food security crisis. The meeting today, convened and led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will discuss not only the challenges we face but, most importantly, will draw up an initial list of the scientific advances we need to overcome them.

Prof Janet Allen, BBSRC Director of Research, said: "Global food security depends on many factors but ultimately on growing enough high quality food with appropriate nutritional value and which can be safely delivered to the consumer. The scientific challenges in ensuring secure harvests and adequate food supplies are considerable but the outcome of today’s meeting will be a detailed list of how experts in this field believe we should go about tackling them. BBSRC believes that the point has been reached where the threat to global sustainable food security requires action.

"There is a lot of effort going into food security studies and research and a diverse range of organisations involved. BBSRC is aiming to bring these activities together and to work with partners to look at the full food security picture."

Grain stores across the world must be sufficient to protect against wild price volatility and speculation – particularly in poorer countries. Global stores fell to their lowest level since 1948 in 2007. One serious shock to the global harvest, such as a major failure in Australia or Canada, could create serious food shortages. Basic science, studying plants, animals and nutrition, offers the potential for food production increases. But this will require the identification of where gains are most readily and sustainably achievable. Effort is also needed to reinforce the innovation pipeline that translates the UK’s world class agricultural and food science into processes and products that meet industry and consumer needs.

Dr Helen Ferrier, Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Adviser for the National Farmers Union, is attending the meeting and said: "It is now widely acknowledged that there is an impending crisis in the security of food supplies globally. We commend BBSRC for convening this meeting and for their commitment to take forward its recommendations. As described in our Why Science Matters for Farming campaign, the NFU believes it is vital that farming is underpinned by excellent science, and that this can be translated into impact on the ground, to enable the industry to deliver solutions to the challenges of food security. By ensuring that the UK has strong food and agricultural research base we can ensure that the country has a secure and high quality food supply in the future."

The meeting will produce a set of priorities to address in order to deliver sustainable food security. BBSRC will lead on developing these into a strategic roadmap which will bring together the interests of all the funders in food security and which it will put out to consultation in the spring.


Notes to editors

The meeting is being led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is being held in Central London today, 19 February. Speakers and delegates are drawn from a wide range of stakeholders encompassing scientists, food security experts, policymakers, Government, funders and industrial stakeholders.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.