Major improvements in the living standards of human beings have occurred in many parts of the world over the last century. Life expectancies have risen markedly in many countries throughout this period, and much of this increase is due to improvement in health (Figure 1.1). The principal reasons for better health include establishment of comfortable living conditions, improved sanitation, development of drugs, vaccines, antibiotics and other medical advances as well as the provision of good quality drinking water and food.
A plentiful supply of good quality food available throughout the year is taken for granted by the many inhabitants of prosperous countries in the European Union (EU), North America and parts of the Pacific rim. Food shortages in these areas no longer occur and the effects of malnutrition and indeed starvation, manifest in the earlier years of the last century, are rarely seen. Food production in excess of national requirements is common. The United States is a major exporter of maize, soya and wheat. In the UK the production of wheat rose from less than 80% of national requirements in the 1970s to over 120% in the 1990s leading to a considerable export trade by the middle of that decade. Indeed current food production may well be sufficient to support the nutritional needs of the entire population of the globe. The problem, particularly for the less wealthy developing countries, is the cost of production allied to their often-poor infrastructure, internal disputes within these countries and in some cases the political/economic willingness of developed countries to redistribute food.