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Food for thought

Posted 23/12/2010 by KatieJ

Eating more fruits and vegetables is unlikely to protect against cancer, according to the unlikely headline of a 13 December news report on Science Daily. In fact, according to the Oxford University researchers who carried out a recent study of cancer risks, there is no convincing evidence that eating more fruit and veg can reduce chances of developing cancer – although they are important for maintaining a healthy diet. After years of being told that fruit and veg are important – in fact I myself wrote a feature on the anticancer benefits of brassicas, notably Brussels sprouts for the current issue of C&I (2010, 24, 17) – now it seems that we are being told just the opposite.

But then the food science world is awash with such confusing conclusions and contradictions. One week we are told of the powerful antioxidant capabilities of some common food ingredient or other and the next we learn that, in actual fact, there is really not much in it at all. To obtain the said benefits, you would probably need to eat more than a normal human stomach could possibly accommodate every day for the next x years. So what or whom to believe?

Perhaps the other important question we should be asking ourselves, commented Peter Doyle, speaking at a recent SCI meeting at Syngenta’s Jealott’s Hill research station in Bracknell, UK, in November 2010, is why we are funding some of this food health research anyway? At a time when the world is arguably facing the biggest ever food crisis, with a population expected to hit 9bn people on the planet by 2050, surely, this money would be better diverted to tackling the real food challenge: how to prevent us all from starving in the next four decades?

Global agricultural productivity growth – the amount of food generated per acre of land – is currently declining, down from 4%/year during the 1960s–1980s to 1% today – and including only 0.6% growth in the EU. Researchers blame a lack of research investment as the cause of this decline. Food health is undoubtedly an important issue, but surely we need to make sure there is enough food to go around first.

Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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