| Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 1, Number 1, 1978 |
|Interfaces of agriculture, food science and nutrition|
A summary of the proceedings of the workshop held in Martonvasar, Hungary
The Hungarian Academy of Science, together with the Swedish Academy of Sciences, organized the workshop on food and nutrition held in Martonvasar, Hungary, from 5 to 9 June 1977. The workshop was sponsored by the UN University, the initiative having originated at the UN University consultative meeting in Stockholm on 17 - 18 March 1977. The workshop included 40 participants, two from each of the European Nordic countries, and one or two from most of the European Socialist countries. In addition, 16 participants from Hungary attended. Participants were mainly agricultural scientists, but also included food scientists and nutritionists.
The workshop discussed the dietary deficiencies and nutrition problems which appear when societies progress economically. It seemed to the workshop that food policy in most countries was apparently aimed at creating a market for traditional agriculture rather than providing a healthy, appetizing diet for consumers. This is probably because the basic facts of nutrition and diet are rarely understood well by those concerned with agriculture and food policy.
It is entirely possible to design a diet without nutritive defects and which would still appeal to the consumer's palate. Such a diet could well be achieved with present, or somewhat modified, agricultural and food-supply systems. Agricultural research today is easily capable of developing systems that could secure a nutritious, healthful, and tasty diet, with a lower required input of resources and energy. It is also well within the capability of agricultural research to develop production systems whereby there would be food enough for all of mankind.
The workshop agreed that Governments should set nutrition targets with the above considerations in mind.
At the closing session the workshop came to the following conclusions.
The typical diet of the industrialized nations today has several undesirable characteristics. It has a high content of fat and refined sugar components which by themselves may contribute to diseases. Further, its starch components have generally been refined (extracted) so that a significant percentage of the nutrients originally present have been removed. Together, these factors result in a relatively low dietary nutrient density. Especially when combined with lifestyles, generally prevalent in industrialized societies, which provide little opportunity for physical activity, such diets may result in nutritional deficiencies and degenerative diseases. A further disadvantage of some of these diets is that they require a high input of resources and energy.
It is entirely possible to attain, or maintain, high levels of national development without the diet having such undesirable characteristics. Therefore, all Governments should adopt nutrition targets aimed at providing a sound diet. The targets should be in conformity with agricultural and food-supply patterns and local food preferences, gradually and appropriately modified by education and information. Agricultural and food-price policies should be so designed as to encourage the adoption of the recommended dietary goals. The same should be the case for agricultural and food legislation, standards, etc.
Agricultural research, e.g. in plant breeding, has achieved remarkable results in recent years, yet many further challenges exist. Such applied research can enable Governments to fulfil dietary targets in the most efficient way possible. Here, research must take into account that people do not eat single commodities, but a more or less complex diet, and further, that food quality, in the widest sense of the word, will be decisive for peoples' choice of food. Thus, agricultural research must consider the whole food-supply system, and research on food improvement must include a great many scientific disciplines.
The technical capability exists today of producing enough food of such a quality that all mankind could be provided with an adequate diet. The constraints on achieving this end are low purchasing power, the limited application of existing knowledge, ignorance about sound food practices, and lack of capital for obtaining the necessary agricultural inputs. Development efforts must primarily be aimed at alleviating or circumventing these constraints.
The dialogue between different disciplines of agricultural research and nutrition was found very valuable, and it was recommended that the workshop should be repeated, possibly in two years time.