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UN expert calls for "cultural revolution" to tackle global food crisis

Professor Olivier De Schutter addresses City Food Symposium
by Ed Grover

"How can nations tackle the planet's food crisis?" nullasked Olivier De Schutter, Professor of Law at the University of Louvain in Belgium and immediate past UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Professor De Schutter asked the question in his keynote speech delivered at the City Food Symposium 2014 at City University London.

Professor De Schutter explained how his work for the UN suggested a "cultural revolution" was needed, alongside improved national and international policies.

"We have to force ourselves to accept our individual responsibility for changing food systems," he said.

In a context of rising global temperatures, growing populations and increasing levels of obesity in developed countries, Professor De Schutter explained his belief that the combined efforts of authorities and local communities offered the "most promising" solution.

Ultimately, it's our attitude to food that needs to change.

He said a cultural shift in eating and buying habits was "indispensible" but stressed governments must be put under pressure to act, as they will only do so in response to demand.

Professor De Schutter concluded his time at the lectern with the words: "Ultimately, it's our attitude to food that needs to change."

The symposium, chaired by City's Professor of Food Policy, Tim Lang, brought together 19 leading experts on food's impact on health, environment, society and economy. They were joined by 250 guests to discuss 'Sustainable diets: what is a good diet for the 21st century?'

Opening the proceedings, Professor Tim Benton, the UK Champion for Global Food Security, set the tone with the clear message "business as usual is not an option".

null"Demand for food is going through the roof and we are not going to be able to sustain it," he said. Professor Benton explained that simply producing more food and calories was not enough and our evolving diets must be more nutritious.

The symposium heard there are competing analyses of the way forward, an issue raised by Dr Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network.

"The food system is in crisis," she said. "We agree that it needs to change but the problem is I don't think we have agreement on what underpins the problem and therefore what the solution looks like."

Dr Jennie Macdiarmid of the University of Aberdeen, explained her analysis of what our new diets could include.

Her modelling suggests a highly restricted diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent. However, she said it was unrealistic to expect society to adopt such radical change and a more realistic diet could cut emissions by 25 per cent.

Tony Long, Director of the WWF European Policy Office, was among the speakers to note there is no specific UK or EU policy for addressing issues with current food systems. Sue Dibb, of Eating Better and the Square Meal collaboration, agreed: "There is a policy blockage at the moment, both here in the UK and in the EU."

The crisis is such that we see new opportunities for transformation and reform.

In addition to academics and lobbyists, speakers from the food industry also made presentations. Guests from WRAP, IGD, the Sustainable Restaurant Association and the Food for Life Catering Mark all expressed the industry's understanding of its environmental impact and resource pressures.

Despite the symposium exploring the failings as well as possibilities for improved food governance, Professor De Schutter captured the general optimism in his closing lecture.

"The crisis is such that we see new opportunities for transformation and reform," he said.

A further interview with Professor De Schutter is available here.

Footage from the event will be uploaded to the Food Research Collaboration website.

The symposium was organised by City University London's Centre for Food Policy and the Food Research Collaboration.

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