"The Nexus of Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, the Environment and Public Health in a Rapidly Changing Environment: Challenges for the Future and the Importance of Integrated Solutions"
Until the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Century, agriculture, nutrition, the environment and public health were considered in a holistic context. The physical environment and agriculture worked as a single system to produce food that was a source of nutrition and ultimately provided for public health. However by the middle of the twentieth century, especially in the research world, the disciplines began to diverge; agriculture focused primarily on production, nutrition on biochemical pathways and specific nutrients, and public health was increasingly dominated by a medical system focused on disease mitigation or cure, not prevention. The environment was seldom considered and soil, water, air and climate were seen as constant and unchanging inputs. Moreover, notable successes in agriculture such as the ‘Green Revolution’ seemed to promise an almost unlimited future. But today, massive population growth, changing demographics and dietary preferences, environmental changes and chronic disease are all realities that have direct impact on human health and quality of life, and they have made us acutely aware of the limitations and sustainability of our current systems. The research community has a great role to play in changing this. Scientific research has been much of the basis for our past successes but future success will require changes in structure and approach. Reductionist research eliminated nutrition responsive diseases such as scurvy, but the current questions -e.g. how do we supply a more nutrient-dense diet in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner –require a very different approach. First these problems require frank and collegial discourse between diverse disciplines often with very different world views. They also require development of integrated research teams; integration of diverse data sets and development of complex modelling procedures. Moreover, this must be accomplished in a timely manner as the problems of environmental change, population growth and chronicdisease are rapidly escalating. Young researchers, unencumbered by the reductionist and discipline-centric approaches of the past, have an ideal opportunity to create these new research systems that can provide answers to the pressing problems of how tooptimize human health through agriculture and nutrition in a rapidly changing world.
Dr. Finley serves as National Program Leader for Human Nutrition in the USDA-Agricultural Research Service where he helps direct the scientific program for six Human Nutrition Research Centers and approximately 70 scientists. In this role, he is involved in developing integrated approaches to research for determining optimal and sustainable food systems that promote health. Dr. Finley received undergraduate degrees in Animal Science and Fine Arts from Clemson University, an MEd in Science