Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Food and talking about food: the challenge of a rigorous information - issue#2

Agriculture and nutrition, thanks to Expo Milano 2015, are one of the key focuses of mass and social media. But also the informative noise grows and progressively creates confusion.


by Lorenzo Morelli Full professor and Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Piacenza

Feed the planet: this is the theme of Expo Milano 2015, as well as an evergreen topic that will always be able to trigger a heated debate, and that inspires the second issue of UCloud, UCSC’s information platform.

The high media-exposure due to Expo Milano 2015 increases the level of attention of mass and social media towards the two main threads innervating the debate revolving around the formula “feeding the planet,” that is to say agriculture and nutrition – meaning by the latter both alimentation policy and dietary choices.

The informative noise about these two topics grows and progressively creates confusion. Some examples regarding the agrarian and the nourishing fields will clarify this statement: genetically modified plants are perceived as potentially dangerous organisms by the most part of European consumers, and especially by Italian ones.

Ingredients derived from this kind of plants are generally to be found both in food and animal feed; many documents released by official authorities, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), guarantee they are safe, nonetheless the label “OGM free” still works as an extraordinary marketing tool able to catch the attention of European consumers.

Bio or “organic” food is consumed not only because it is considered as chemical free, but also because consumers believe it has a lower impact on the environment. However, the low yields/hectare balance characterizing organic cultivation would in fact increase the need for more land to be cultivated, causing an inevitable higher global impact on the environment.

After all, “without” seems to be rated among the most used keywords describing dietary choices. After having spent thousand of years to become omnivorous, human beings – or at least Western culture – believe that better health conditions can be achieved without drinking milk, without eating meat and leavened food, etc..

The preoccupation fed by the information overload and the hunger of scientific data on the issue reached high levels within the realm of research. Some colleagues at UC Davis founded IFAL, Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, whose mission is specifically to provide journalists, politicians and consumers rigorous information supported by scientific data.

On IFAL homepage the American colleagues underline how the debate about these topics is not only definitely up to date, but from time to time also reaches resentful tones. At stake there are issues such as how to produce healthier and more sustainable food, how to positively influence consumers’ choices so to guide them towards a healthier and more ecologically sustainable diet.

UCSC takes part to such debate in various ways: this issue of UCloud offers a rich overview of opinions and reports dealing with technical aspects connected to agrarian production, and news ranging from economics, and politics to philosophy of nutrition.