UK Food needs Radical Rethink

It was interesting to hear Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, saying yesterday that we need a "radical rethink" on food policy in this country.

For many years those who think green have identified the world's population growth, habit & climate change and a loss of biodiversity, to name a few, as the factors that would affect food production.

Coupled with the fact that British are not entirely self-sufficient when it comes to food production, the future of the country's "food security" is as important as the nation's insistence on foreign powers to provide our energy needs.

Hilary Benn identified that whilst our food supply is currently secure climate change and growing world population are indeed a threat to the security of what we eat, how much of it we get, what we pay for it and where it comes from.

Anyone who has read A Blueprint for Survival, the book that was the basis of the (now) Green Party's manifesto back in 1973, would be right in saying that this is nearly 40 years too late. Why are the government only thinking and speaking now?

Over the past few years we've seen changes in the price of oil and people have had to think very seriously about what they drive; big macho gas-guzzler or economic city car?

Food too has been affected by price variations such as the diversion of grain from being a food source to being an alternative bio-fuel to pour into the tanks of gas-guzzlers in an attempt to "go green" yet causing the "Tortilla riots" in Mexico as the price of flour has risen.

The droughts in Australia last year too have also been attributed as a factor in the rise in the price of grain and the consequent hike in the price of bread in the UK.

With these factors in mind the Environment Secretary has called these signs a "wake up call" even though the government has been hitting "snooze" since the 1970s.

Although nearly 4 decades too late, matters seem to be more pressing as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launches a last minute consultation into Britain's food security future.

DEFRA's current assessment of Britain's food supply is that whilst we have a diversity of food suppliers worldwide and the supply chain is in a favourable position, the impact of global resources in the future will mean that other countries will need to feed their own growing populations rather than export to the UK and we will see our food imports fall, scarcity in some products rise and prices in those areas will increase. It's a very simple case of supply & demand.

Hilary Benn's "radical rethink" is therefore looking in the direction of what we can do to secure a healthy, abundant & diverse source of home-grown foods. I've noticed a lot of my friends are growing their own veg these days but that can hardly feed the whole nation.


The Sustainable Development Commission released a report in July Stop the Decline in UK Food Production saying that the current system was a problem due to it being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and that current evaluations of food provision being a "success" failed to count the affects on soil & water from the intensive use of pesticides etc. (think "Blueprint" again!)

The British Retail Consortium want food issues to focus around the consumer, according to the BBC, saying that only with "their buy-in" will food policy be fairly shaped.

The harsh reallity is that everybody needs to wake up, the government should stop fannying around and we should all understand that things aren't going to be as cheap or as easy as they have been. People should consume less, eat better, only buy what they need and not allow food to be wasted.

In addition, what the Environment Secretary believes, is that food production should be more efficient. One example was that English strawberries can be grown to use less water to achieve the same yields and retain their taste & character.

You can read about DEFRA's consultation, Food 2030, and watch Hilary Benn speaking about the challenges of a secure food future. Don't forget to leave your comments there too; green voices should be heard in this matter and we'll definitely be taking time to make our voice heard on the issues of GM crops (No, thank you), sustainability, organic farming, maintaining biodiversity etc.

Make your voices heard, comment on Food 2030!