The way we define food security is changing.
For decades, food security was viewed exclusively through the lens of shortages. In the 1960s, when daily food availability in emerging countries was just 1,850 kilocalorie (kcal) per person and as many as half of the world’s population were malnourished it is easy to understand our narrow focus on increasing food production. The challenges we face are now shifting.
Food scarcity remains a critical issue but the Green Revolution, which featured a series of transformational agricultural innovations, dramatically decreased its scale. The development and distribution of high-yielding grains, pesticides, and herbicides, and innovations around crop management were just a few of the transformational changes that are credited with saving millions of people from starvation.
By 2008, the daily food availability in emerging nations grew to 2,640 kcal per person and today roughly one in 10 people in the world don’t have enough to eat. Food production has increased an estimated 300 percent in the last half century as a result of new technologies that enable farmers to be more productive with their land.
As food scarcity diminishes, we have the luxury, and the responsibility, to consider a broader definition of food security that incorporates the significance of safety. The rapid growth in food production continues to outpace the spread of agricultural practices and safety processes that protect the integrity of crops and livestock. For instance, a number of the pesticides and herbicides that are now ubiquitous have environmental and health consequences we need to examine, and the explosion of crop production in developing nations has made safety regulations more difficult to set and enforce.
We are quickly finding the same technologies that transformed the global food supply are threatening to damage it.
The challenges of growing supply chains, increased commodities exchanges, and surges in cross-border trade have revealed our system is not fully prepared to ensure food safety around the world. Our once relatively centralized agricultural infrastructure has given way to an environment that features expanded trade with and between developing nations, which presents new opportunities for unsafe products to enter global markets.
A Second Green Revolution
It is time for a sequel to the Green Revolution that takes into account our evolving understanding of how to ensure the quality, traceability, and safety of our food in light of an increasingly complex and geographically diverse supply chain. We all share the obligation to address these issues. Unsafe food practices in one country can, and often do, harm companies and consumers in another.
The second revolution must entail a globalized approach to food safety—a concerted effort to harmonize food safety in every region by leveraging the full sum of our technical knowledge to create standards, training, and testing procedures that ensure our global food system is consistently safe and sustainable.
This vast challenge can only be solved through a collaborative approach that incorporates the perspectives and experiences of every stakeholder in the food space. The food industry, its suppliers and providers, governments, and non-government organizations (NGOs) all have an important part to play in creating a food system that is responsive and evolves with our growing needs in the decades to come.
At the center of the global food system, the food industry can be a particularly active member in part two of the Green Revolution. The industry has valuable experience from its extensive efforts to develop safer products for its consumers, and its strong influence across supply chains can be used to share best practices, change behaviors, and conduct quality assessments that reach back to primary producers.
But the food industry is not just limited to companies that produce food. Service and technology solution providers must also have a significant role in advancing food safety and security.