Bulcke, who gave a keynote speech at the annual City Food Lecture in London last night, said that overuse of fresh water was not only posing a serious environmental hazard, but was now a major risk to political and social stability.

“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.”

Maintaining that such resource shortages will lead to price increases and volatility, Bulcke urged industry, governments and other stakeholders to start addressing these issues sooner rather than later.

He also took the opportunity to highlight some of the other challenges facing the food industry, particularly the horsemeat crisis. Admitting that “we have let our consumers down”, Bulcke said that trust was the industry’s most important asset.

“The horse meat issue affects the entire industry. 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.”

He cautioned that if food companies are to continue to produce enough affordable, quality food for an increasingly prosperous global population, ensuring availability of fresh water is vital.

“Already today, water withdrawals are in excess of sustainable supply, and this gap continues to widen. This is an issue that must be addressed urgently. We should give water the right priority, the right value,” he maintained.

Bulcke also touched on distorting policies, such as the use of cereal crops for biofuels, as putting increasing demand on water supplies.

His comments come just days after the company’s chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe admitted that more needed to be done to tackle wasteful agriculture practices within global supply chains.

Maxine Perella

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