Yesterday we were at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics workshop titled ‘the future of food sustainability in the UK’. As one of their ‘horizon scanning workshops’ the day brought together a wide range of individuals from a variety of disciplines and sectors to explore what challenges we will face in making food more sustainable in the future; the role of scientific and technological (especially biological) innovation in addressing these challenges; the ethical and social issues this research could raise; and the role the Nuffield Council on Bioethics could play in public and policy debates about food sustainability.
As the introduction to the workshop outlined, we are at an important moment in the future of food sustainability. We have the convergence of consumer needs – safe, tasty and affordable food – and wants – such as locally sourced or seasonal food, or high animal welfare – with government ambitions, including increasing farm productivity, reducing carbon emissions, promoting healthy diets and cutting food and plastic waste. At the same time, the political context of Brexit presents new challenges and opportunities.
Whilst the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ primary interest is in the role of science and technology in food sustainability, there was plenty of interdisciplinary discussions. These included contributions from social scientists regarding the importance of going beyond technical questions regarding how we can sustainably produce *more* food, to a focus on the social and political dimensions of access to food.
Overall, it was a stimulating and thought-provoking day, with presentations from knowledgeable and notable individuals including Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University; Dr Alison Bentley, Head of Genetics and Breeding Research at the NIAB Group; and Professor Jennie Macdiarmid, Professor of Sustainable Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen.