PROFETAS Protein Foods, Environment, Technology and Society
Current issues

Current issues

PROFETAS featuring in a European TV documentary (shot 2008,  broadcast 2009 - 2010)

A series of documentaries called "Future Detectives" targeted at young people tries to capture the future of waste, mobility and ... food. As a result of the PROFETAS research programme the latter episode was largely shot at the VU University in Amsterdam and Wageningen University.

The series is sponsored by an EU-FP6 project (Sixth Framework) and produced by a Danish, Swedish, Polish, Croatian, Czech, Lithuanian, Hungarian, French and German consortium of film producers, experts in future studies and TV broadcasting organisations. The youngsters in the TV programmes prepare for tomorrow's problems by seeking answers to questions such as: What solutions are needed to make tomorrow's world better that today's? How can science contribute to provide solutions to future societal problems?

During 2009 and 2010, the series will be broadcast in many European countries. Details on TV channels and broadcast dates will be made available on the consortium website. Mid-2009, the premiere was on Danish DR-TV. For a trailer see:

A topical debate: Do biofuels outcompete food and feed?

"Increased demand for bio-fuels is causing fundamental changes to agricultural markets that could drive up world prices for many farm products, according to a report published by the OECD and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2007-2016." (July 2007)

But a new World Bank report, "Placing the 2006/08 Commodity Price Boom into Perspective" concludes that "the effect of biofuels on food prices has not been as large as originally thought, but that the use of commodities by financial investors (the so-called "financialization of commodities") may have been partly responsible for the 2007/08 spike." (August 2010)

At any rate, the above introductory sentence should not be regarded to be entirely right or wrong, but rather suggestive:

  • food commodity prices primarily depend on demand and supply
  • demand is determined by 1) world population, 2) standard of living (meat consumption in particular), and 3) mineral fuel substitution IN THAT ORDER
  • blaming biofuels primarily is therefore inappropriate (for in 2004 just 1% of the agricultural area was used for biofuel production worldwide, which may rise to 2.5-4.2% by 2030; please see FAO, 2008, page 45: Table 9 Land requirements for biofuel production)
  • moreover, replacing mineral fuels is a MUST to attain sustainability

Additional information on the economic and political background of this issue can be found in the essay "How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor" by C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007).

At any rate, a sustainable approach addressing all three pillars of sustainability (ecology, economy and society) should include:

  • speedy introduction of next generation biofuels from agricultural "waste"
  • deriving food, feed, feedstock (bulk chemicals) and fuel from crops, according to the "biorefinery" approach in a cascade fashion
  • conserving energy, freshwater and biodiversity (the heart of the problem)
  • mitigating the latter is likely to require a reduction of livestock and partial replacement of animal protein by plant protein

The above aspects - particularly the latter - are treated extensively in our multidisciplinary book, summarising the overall results of PROFETAS and the resulting options for more sustainable production and consumption of food, energy and water (see also: Societal transitions), combined with reduced impacts on biodiversity, human health and animal welfare:

Sustainable Protein Production and Consumption: Pigs or Peas?
Harry Aiking, Joop de Boer & Johan Vereijken (Eds.)
Hardcover, 2006, Series: Environment & Policy, Vol. 45
ISBN: 1-4020-4062-8, Dordrecht: Springer (246 pp.)

- On 12 April 2006 Cees Veerman, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture accepted the first copy of the book during a short ceremony at the Ministry in The Hague. 
To download a press release in English please click
here; in Dutch please click here.

The pictures below were provided by Hugo Stempher: