Our food system is at the centre of many of the critical environmental, health, social and economic challenges we confront in the 21th century. Food sustainability, food security and feeding the 815 million who are hungry are central issues which now exercise the minds of businesses, governments and civil society as never before. Put this in the context of a population that will grow from 7.3 billion in 2015 and reach 9.7 billion by 2050 (with two thirds of these living in cities), and changing dietary patterns, with dairy and meat production expected to increase by 65% and 76%, respectively, then the challenge becomes even more daunting. According to the United Nations, food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050, while many others predict a doubling, based on business as usual scenarios.
Today the world bears witness to a dramatic nutrition transition to more western style diets. Wealth, rapid urbanization and the industrialization of our food systems are driving a surge in resource intensive meat and dairy products and consumption of products containing high amounts of sugars and fat (i.e. energy), the main causes of an exponential rise in obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Latest forecasts suggest that over 50% of the European population is overweight and more than 20% are obese. Unhealthy diets are the leading factor for all healthy life years lost in Europe. Chronic diseases account for 70%-80% of healthcare costs, corresponding to an estimated €700 billion per year in the EU – a figure likely to grow. Worldwide, in 2016, more than 2 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. The World Health Organization has estimated the direct costs of diabetes alone at more than US$827 billion per year globally.