Feast or famine: The global #foodfail

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Developing nations continue to struggle with widespread hunger, while obesity is becoming a global epidemic. New research, published as a special section in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has some ideas for how we can get out of this puzzling double crisis.

“Business innovation as a catalyst for change is a key to full and sustainable nutrition security,” says Professor Laurette Dubé of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Dubé co-authored the lead PNAS paper with Prabhu Pingali of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Professor Patrick Webb of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

The researchers argue that while hunger and obesity are caused by a perfect storm of multiple factors acting in concert, the efforts to counter them have been narrowly focused and isolated. They’re calling for an unprecedented level of joint planning and action between academia, government, civil society and, crucially, industry.

Dubé and her colleagues are particularly keen on remaking how food is grown, processed, distributed, sold and consumed. Their plan focuses on innovations that simultaneously take into account the needs of farmers, the complexity of nutrition-related human biology and decision-making, and the power of profit incentives in the commercial sector. The result, the researchers say, is “a roadmap for a transdisciplinary science to support change of sufficient scale and scope” to carve out “an alternative path from tradition to industrialization” — one that “promotes healthy lifestyles and environments rather than undermining them.”

The PNAS special feature grew out of a 2008 conference hosted by the McGill World Platform for Health and Economic Convergence with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Read more about this research here.

Photo: © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com

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