Future farming systems must move away from a drive to produce as much food as possible and instead focus on producing healthy food in a sustainable way.
Professor Tim Benton made the comments at yesterday’s Oxford Farming Conference, which was delivered online due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Prof Benton, who heads up the energy, environment and resources programme at independent policy institute Chatham House, said there was a “fundamental mismatch” between what is grown in the world, and what should be grown.
He said an agricultural system focused on producing as much food as possible had led to increased stocks of food and lower prices, which had created problems with obesity and food waste.
“We need to do things differently because our business-as-usual focus on productivity creates cheaper food and more waste and ill-health,” added Prof Benton.
He said although the agri-food sector contributes more than £120 billion to the economy, this is cancelled by costs from the production system such as pollution from fertilisers, food and packaging waste and dietary ill-health.
“We need to get what we are growing to be fit for purpose; it has to feed people and be nutritious,” said Prof Benton.
“We shouldn’t be growing food that makes people ill and that people can throw away.”
He said farmers did not need to grow more food, but instead people needed to become more efficient about how food was used.
“Health and wellbeing is the key thing we have forgotten,” added Prof Benton.
“We have focused on yields rather than what the yields are used for.”