• Question: what are the isues with the food and will they affect us one day, if so is there any thing we can do about it?

    Asked by mistymagic to Cassie, Greg, Karen, Sofia, Tommy on 18 Nov 2013.
    • Photo: Karen Bacon

      Karen Bacon answered on 18 Nov 2013:

      There are so many issues with food that this is a tough question to answer in any kind of succinct manner. For the point of view of plants, many of our crop plants, such as maize and sugar cane, are called C4 plants [these plants make a four carbon sugar as the first product of photosynthesis and have a special cellular arrangement so that they can funnel carbon dioxide into their leaves efficiently] and these plants photosynthesise most efficiently when there is low carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as there has been for the last few million years). So some of these plants may become less productive over this century as CO2 increases in the atmosphere. Other crops are called C3 plants [these plants make a 3 carbon sugar as the first product of photosynthesis but sometimes oxygen is used instead of carbon dioxide and this reduces the efficiency of photosynthesis] and it is possible that these crops may become more productive. However, it’s not that simple. Climate change is likely to effect weather patterns and this could affect where different crops can be grown – it may become difficult to grow rice in some areas where it is grown as a stable today but we may be able to grow wine grapes in part of the UK (some places in the SW are already doing this). Changes in food production are already affecting us but you may not have noticed yet – last year there was less wheat produced in America and other places due to weather problems and the cost of some foodstuffs increased a little. If this happens a lot then food prices will increase more.
      Another problem related to food, is that there is a rapidly increasing world population. This means that there are always more people to feed. So we need to produce more food, but this may not be easy and it is already difficult to produce enough of different types of food at a low cost for everyone to have a good diet. Producing meat is expensive and also adds a lot to carbon dioxide and methane emissions – so more people wanting to eat lots of meat could be very bad for climate change. One suggestion that is being talked about a lot right now is replacing the protein (which is why we eat meat) from cows, pigs and sheep (and other farmed animals) with protein from insects. There is no reason why we couldn’t eat insects as well as cows and other animals as they give the same protein and it could be better for the environment too – imagine getting a cockroach burger! I think this is something that you will see in the UK during your lifetime!
      There are loads more issues with food, but they are just the ones that I’ve picked out to answer your question a little. Food production and security are incredibly important areas of science – and they rely heavily on plant scientists to try to address them. just another reason that plants are super important!

    • Photo: Sofia Franco

      Sofia Franco answered on 18 Nov 2013:

      Karen has given a great answer, so I will be brief! I work in marine biology, and in particular in fisheries and aquaculture, so I will tell you the history from the side of seafood! As population increases, we started to realize that we are unable to fish enough food to cope with this many people…..not only, some stocks are so badly threatened that they might not recover or do it in useful time! Some more sensationalist articles even had in title “no more fish in the sea in 50 years!” This is obviously a great problem, to which there is a potential solution: Aquaculture! This is the growing of fish and plants in water…so as you would grow a chicken, you can grow a fish! (instead of chasing the chicken around, or in this case the fish!) Obviously this needs to be done with care to limit impact in the ecosystems, but a lot of species are already produced like this! Almost all salmon, mussels, prawns, seabass and seabream we eat come from aquaculture. Did you know this? A lot of investment is being made and aquaculture is increasing at about 10% a year, while fisheries are stagnated! So though food security is a concern, there are also options, and aquaculture is one of them!

    • Photo: Thomas Doherty-Bone

      Thomas Doherty-Bone answered on 19 Nov 2013:

      Food is always an issue. Its what keeps us alive and healthy. Its a question of where does it come from? Is it what we need? Can we do without it? and can we keep getting enough of it? These are questions as old as humanity itself. The UK government recently made a report on the future of farming and food in the UK.

      Food is grown as plants, reared as animals, or collected outside of farms, such as fish in the oceans. Because a lot of our food is other organisms, which themselves need to eat and reproduce, we need to strike the balance of taking enough to feed us but also so we can keep going back and getting more. Hence farming. But then there is the issue of soil and fertility – how can we make sure the soil that produces our crops will continue to give us what we need?

      Environmental conditions are also important. Some foods we can’t collect here (bananas) so import from other countries. If you go somewhere like rainforest Africa, there won’t be much milk for your coffee as the weather is not good for grass, so now cows. Some farming methods might be bad for the environment, so for example rearing of cattle might have to stop and we may have to adopt near-vegan diets (I’ve tried this and it ain’t as bad as they say).

      And do we need other organisms to support our food organisms? Wild bees and other pollinators are very important for our food, even though we don’t eat them. And trees that shed leaves, which are broken down by earthworms are important for the soil we grow our crops in. And the birds and spiders and other predators that eat the pests of our crops.

      So we know that we want lots of food, and now science is directing ways of how to keep it that way. This includes managing biodiversity, managing water, soil, maybe breeding new varieties of farmed organism (old trick, new tools such as genetic modification), general clever thinking on ecosystem perspetives of food, plus predicting what the environment will be like before it happens.