‘When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need’ Ayurvedic Proverb
Caroline Drummond MBE, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) carried out a Nuffield Scholarship during 2014 exploring ‘What farmers can learn from science to improve the nutritional value of our food?’ Here she explains more about the role of sustainable food systems in improving health and nutrition.
The agricultural systems that have been built up over the past few decades have contributed greatly to alleviating hunger and raising living standards; they have served the purpose, but only up to a point.
In the UK, the traditional public health challenges of under nutrition and unsafe food and water have been largely replaced by the risks of poor diet. As a nation, young and old, we over consume foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and do not eat enough fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish. This type of diet underlies many of the chronic diseases that cause substantial suffering, ill health and premature death.
Our current food system is largely driven by economic demand and production, not nutritional goals. Thus, to be successful in the future, we will require agriculture systems that focus as much attention on addressing economic demand and production, as they do on meeting nutritional goals. This will help address the growth in dietary related diseases across the globe by improving the nutritional value of food and providing new opportunities for farmers to benefit, both in the field and in the market place.
There are a wealth of new developments in the food we eat and while attempting to manage obesity drains the NHS budgets, the health food market grows with quick solutions to undo our excesses, high protein drinks, new diets, the list goes on. Indeed, Coca-Cola have recently launched their ‘Fairlife’ high value, high protein milk and globally, some $68 billion is spent annually on vitamin tablets alone!
Furthermore the ‘health by stealth’ approach to fresh and processed foods is growing. This will offer short term solutions, but in the long term, the farming industry needs to get smart and takes centre stage in more integrated discussions across government departments including the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and the Department of Education.
Whether it be new breeding approaches in crops to enhance nutritional features or enriched diets for livestock to increase Omega 3 content, there are certainly new opportunities on the horizon to embed health as a core part of sustainable food and farming. This is where LEAF’s work will become increasingly more important. In the short term, we need to focus on improving soil health through Integrated Farm Management, engaging consumers in how their food is produced and where it comes farm through Open Farm Sunday as well as supporting farmers in the market place with LEAF Marque.
Food and nutrition is the bed-rock of society – we need to develop the building blocks that connect health, well-being, nutrition, farming and education, creating sustainable diets and food systems that are underpinned by the need to improve health and nutrition. The investment in reducing the burden of those dietary related diseases will have high returns. Feeding a world without nourishing it at the same time is not sustainable.
The future is not about producing more food. It is about more of the right food where health is embedded as a value when we buy it – after all, in reality, every food we produce on farm is a super food – it is managing our diet around it that we need to challenge.
Click here to download Caroline’s full Nuffield Scholarship report. She will also be talking about the issues on this week’s Countryfile programme to be aired at 6.15pm on BBC One, Sunday 25th October 2015.