A UK government project to overhaul the UK's food system to meet rising global demand without harming the environment, yet keeping prices affordable, has drawn criticism for its lack of clear timelines and targets.

The Green Food Project, a partnership between farming, government and food industries, and environmental and consumer organisations, outlined how food production and consumption could change across various sectors and geographical areas.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the project's recommendations - for improvements in areas such as research and technology, investment, land management, waste and consumption - were too vague.

"WWF felt some of the project's recommendations were woolly in places and lacked specific targets and milestones," it said in a statement.

However, UK Farming Minister Jim Paice insisted that the project was a "first step" in a long-term plan to make radical changes to the UK's entire food chain. "We're not talking about setting Soviet-style targets, but an overall approach in which the whole food chain pulls together," he said.

The project called for "much more detailed discussion" on consumption, including the sustainability of meat consumption and animal feed. It stopped short, however, of making more concrete recommendations.

"The establishment of a consumption forum is a useful initiative, but this has to be much more than just a talking shop," said Mark Driscoll, head of WWF-UK's food programme. "It must report back with clear recommendations and a timetable for action."

A UK government report last year estimated that food production would need to increase by 70% to meet demand from a global population forecast to rise to 9-billion by 2050, from 7-billion today. Rapidly developing economies such as China, India and Brazil are fuelling growing demand for food, energy and water, while obesity and the amount of waste in the West are on the rise.

At the same time, diets across the world are becoming more westernised, leading to higher demand for meat, which puts pressure on land and energy use while increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Among its recommendations, the project said that research into new agricultural products needs to start now if big technological advances are to be made in the next 30 to 40 years. It said new systems arising from research and technology advances should be made easier to adopt by industry, and that greater investment is needed in soil science, agronomy and ecosystem research.

The government also needs to attract the brightest young people to the food, farming and environment sectors to help to tackle future challenges.

Between 2007 and 2017, the UK food and drink manufacturing industry will need to replace 137000 people, while there are skills shortages in the fields of food science, technology and engineering, the report said.

It also said that "significant" financial investment will be needed in the coming decades to upgrade facilities, ensure that businesses can adapt to climate change and increase productivity to keep the UK competitive.

Reuters