Author: Rallou Salakou
Imagine the future
Have you ever wondered how the future will be? How will food be produced? What are we going to eat?
The future is very difficult to predict but today’s decisions often shape tomorrow’s outcomes. Foresighting is a method that aims to increase awareness about the future. It is used to boost the understanding of possible futures and to identify the upcoming challenges. Depending on those challenges, foresighting aims to clarify the tasks that need to be accomplished in order to move towards one direction or to avoid it.
Scenario creation is one of the
foresighting methods. In this method, two variables affecting the society are
selected and four scenarios are built based on their extreme cases. Different
variables can be selected depending on the issues to be highlighted. In the Foresight
Study created by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the
selected variables are ‘societal values’ and the ‘agricultural commodity prices’,
as shown in the Picture below.
A foresight study on food and health
The relationship between nutrition and health status is lately a point of major discussion. This is due to the high impact on individual’s lives but also the increased burden on healthcare systems. Therefore, it is essential to address the challenges of health promotion and disease prevention when defining the future of the Agri-food sector.
The scenarios created by the JRC aim to open a discussion about research priorities by imagining the food and nutritional habits in future societies. The four scenarios are described below:
Scenario 1: Healthy New World - society focusses on health
In this society, there is a strong community spirit with
social coherence, high living standards and relatively high taxes. Commodity prices are relatively low due to a successful
adaptation to climate change. Household expenditure
on food and beverages has increased due to higher quality products. Healthy foods and lifestyle are of
major importance to all, monitored by mobile platforms. Overall, the health status of people is good,
driven by disease prevention and access to the state health care system.
Unhealthy foods have mostly disappeared from the market and restaurants focus on nutritious foods
as well. The private food sector
has experienced considerable concentration, resulting in large companies while SMEs operate in niche markets, offering
high-value products and diversity. Agricultural
production is primarily aimed at food production and less at animal feed
and biofuels. Technological
developments are widely used and generally accepted, though people are cautious.
Scenario 2: Heal the World – society focusses on sustainability
Global climate change impacts have resulted in scarce natural
resources and increased food prices.
Imported, unsustainable and
unhealthy foods are taxed, and people
have realised they need to adhere to sustainable diets and lifestyles, both in environmental and health terms. There
is a strong community spirit.
Governments closely control food
quality and safety and the limited healthcare
has shifted focus from treatment to prevention. Diet-related and degenerative
diseases remain a concern. Technological
developments focus mainly on sustainability, biodiversity and cost-reduction.
Digital technologies monitor health status and align food purchasing with individual health and dietary needs. GMOs,
alternative protein sources, nanotechnology and novel farming methods are
accepted and needed. In terms of employment, teleworking is common, saving time and transport costs. Agricultural production is restricted
to medium-sized farms and individual production in the cities, and there is competition between crops for food and
biofuels. Shorter food chains
are dominated by large companies that produce bulk foods and focus on
sustainable EU products. Food choices are restricted, and people rarely eat out
due to high prices.
Scenario 3: Eat to Live – society focusses on cost-reduction
society, people favour self-interest. Food
prices are high even though
foods are mass-produced at low costs. Companies grow crops that yield the highest revenues,
causing competition between food, feed and biofuels. Compromised food safety
and public health has led to disease outbreaks, while food fraud is undermining trust. Mobile applications monitoring health and facilitating dietary choice are affordable, but
science-based applications are very expensive. Eating functional foods and supplements is considered a healthy habit
rather than focussing on a balanced diet. Inexpensive protein sources such as
insects are preferred over expensive real meats. Food variety is very low and mainly restricted to mass-produced, fortified foods. Retail is non-specialised while convenience, taste and health are strong
secondary drivers after price. The food system is a truly global food chain consisting of large companies. Additionally,
there are some specialised businesses, based on own cultivation or food waste
recovery. Technological developments
and cost-effectiveness are considered necessary to keep food prices from
rising further. Smart homes are
linked to specific retailers and offer home delivery. Those who can afford it
use smart kitchens for cooking,
which automate food preparation and reduce the need for cooking skills.
Jobwise, people have long working days and
sometimes two jobs.
Scenario 4: Me, Myself and I – society where self-interest is dominant
where strong individualism,
personal rights and initiative are valued above the common good. Commodity
prices are low due to successful adaptation
to climate change and use of second-generation biofuels. Food prices vary
but are generally affordable since the EU is a prosperous region. The public
has a positive attitude towards
technology, perceiving it as the basis of its welfare. Innovation is driven by diverse consumer
needs. Novel devices, pre-set to genotypes and preferences, do shopping
automatically, while novel breeding
technologies improve nutrient profiles. Healthcare
is private but affordable and medical progress focusses more on
early-intervention than prevention. Personalized diets are adapted to
preferences and biological needs. A wide
variety of foods are available in the market, with frequent use of
nutraceuticals and supplements. Ethical
values, such as animal welfare and food waste, are of no major concern
to people. Online shopping and home delivery are common. The food sector includes multinationals and
SMEs, offering solutions according to individual
preferences when eating out or delivering food to the home. Flexible jobs allow for tailored working schemes regarding
time and location.
These scenarios have been used during workshops to identify research priorities and explore the possibilities of shifting to healthier diets towards 2050. This was achieved by analysing the challenges rising from each scenario and identifying those that could be tackled by research.
This foresighting study identified ten research priorities divided into four thematic areas:
1. Towards healthier eating: integrated policy-making
- Improve the evidence base for the adoption of healthier behaviour.
- Develop a scientific framework for a systems approach to food and nutrition policies
- Provide a framework to design, monitor and evaluate policies.
2. Food, nutrients and health: cross-interactions and emerging risks
- Deepening the understanding of human nutrition: facing the complexities
- Anticipating emerging risks
3. Making individualised diets a reality
- Data needs: Creation and management of necessary data for enabling individualised diets
- Analysis of feasibility and impacts of individualised, healthy diets
4. Shaping and coping with the 2050food system
- Understanding the social role of food
- Towards a sustainable food system producing safe, affordable and healthy dietary component
- Supporting technologies to meet social needs