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Nestlé CEO warns water scarcity is major threat to food industry
Our Bureau
Date of posting: 01-03-13
      Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke gave the annual City Food Lecture in London, UK, and has used his keynote speech to warn the food industry that water scarcity is one of the greatest threats it faces.

      In his speech, ‘Water – the linchpin of food security’, Bulcke argued that overuse of fresh water poses not only a serious environmental hazard, but also a major risk to political and social stability.

      He said water scarcity will be the cause of massive food shortages within the next 15-20 years and that now was the time for industry, governments and other stakeholders to act decisively. “It is anticipated that there will be up to 30% shortfalls in global cereal production by 2030 due to water scarcity,” he said. "This is a loss equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the United States combined".

      These shortages would lead to price increases and volatility. “Higher prices for staple cereals are not so much of a problem for the West, or for most people in Europe. But a price increase of more than 200% will certainly be felt when you have to spend 40 to 60% of your income on food, mostly staple food", he stated.

      Bulcke took the opportunity to highlight some of the other challenges currently facing the food industry, particularly the horsemeat crisis that has affected a number of retailers and manufacturers in Europe, including Nestlé. “The horse meat issue affects the entire industry,” he said. “Widespread fraud is being committed by a few across Europe. I understand that many consumers and many of you in the industry feel misled, I feel the same. This should not happen, it is unforgivable. We have let our consumers down. The industry is facing today a trust issue. "It is wrong and unacceptable that a minority has put our entire industry and all the people involved in it in such a bad light".

      Bulcke cautioned that if food companies are to continue to produce enough affordable, quality food for the fast-growing and increasingly prosperous global population, ensuring availability of fresh water is vital. “There will be a further 2.3 billion people on the planet by 2050, adding to existing demand for food and energy,” he said.

      More than two thirds of all the world’s fresh water is withdrawn by agriculture, but the physiological need of plants amounts to only half of this amount. For Bulcke this means that there is potential to make enormous savings, with measures like breeding coffee plants with higher drought tolerance, for example, up to training farmers in improved irrigation and water saving techniques.

      The City Food Lecture is given every year by a leading figure in the food business who is invited to speak about the issues they regard as most important in shaping the way food is produced, distributed, marketed, sold and consumed.

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