In the Food 2030 document setting out future food strategy, the government have said they want to happen:
Consumers are informed, can choose, and afford, healthy, sustainable food. This demand is met by profitable, competitive, highly skilled and resilient farming, fishing and food businesses, supported by first class research and development.
Food is produced, processed and distributed to feed a growing global population in ways which:
- use global natural resources sustainably,
- enable the continuing provision of the benefits and services that a healthy natural environment provides,
- promote high standards of animal health and welfare,
- protect food safety,
- make a significant contribution to rural communities, and
- allow us to show global leadership on food sustainability.
Our food security is ensured through strong British agriculture and international trade links with EU and global partners, which support developing economies. We have a low carbon food system which is efficient with resources – any waste is reused, recycled or used for energy generation.
This sounds good – but now the hard part. Will they make it happen?
For the first time in 60 years a UK government has produced a document setting out its strategy for the future of food production. Hilary Benn, DEFRA Secretary unveiled this at the start of the Oxford Farming Conference.
Mr Benn should be given credit for this because up until 2007 he appeared to have no concerns about food security and followed the usual government line that we would always be able to import any amount of food.
He now seems to want a strong but sustainable UK farming industry and we hope that his turnaround is partly due to him reading our book Famine in the West which he described in September 2007 as very interesting and which he passed to DEFRA policy officials for them to read.
Mr Benn said society had begun to take food supply for granted in the last few decades. “But the truth is now apparent. We cannot take it for granted anymore… We know we are at one of those moments in history where the future of our economy, our environment, and our society will be shaped by the choices we make now.”
Many people think that the 84 page document shows well what the government would like to see happen but says little about how to get there.
My opinion is that it is a very good start but they need to make specific plans to deal with major future problems such as sudden severe energy shortages brought on by geo-political events such as future conflict in the Middle East.
The present government has up until now taken the view that Britain is a trading nation that is best at producing high tech goods and providing financial services such as banking and insurance. Food should be imported from the cheapest areas while our farmers act as glorified wildlife custodians.
But in documents recently released, DEFRA acknowledges that food security can no longer be taken for granted and pressure on natural resources across the globe is making markets more volatile. Hilary Benn has been on TV and in the press saying that UK farmers should produce a bigger proportion of our food.
The papers state that the UN predicts the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050, and as we have often pointed out, this needs to be done at a time when we will be short of land, water, oil and fertiliser. We will also have severe climatic disruption due to climate change.
We recieved a letter from Mr Benn over a year ago saying that he found the points raised in our book “Famine in the West” interesting and that he would be passing a copy to Defra policy officials for them to read.
Dr Vickey Pope, head of climate advice at the Met office described these projections as the most comprehensive analysis to date.
Whatever we do now, we are bound to have average the temperature rise by almost 2C compared to pre-industrial levels, but robust measures now could prevent rises above that level, which is where many scientists fear dangerous feedback effects will start to kick in.
The projections are that rainfall will stay about the same in the UK, but more will fall in winter with summer rainfall down by anything between 20% and 80%. The temperature on the hottest days could hit 41C by 2080.
This is exactly the opposite of what is good for food production. We need regular spring and early summer rainfall and moderate temperature to obtain the huge crop yields we now have in the UK.
Hilary Benn, commenting on these projections said they make very sobering reading and that climate change is the greatest challenge we face.
He said that we need to plan how to cope and protect people. He considers that the meeting in Copenhagen in December is the most important one in humankind’s history.
That’s quite a statement and does show that some government ministers do fully understand the situation. The problem is that the years are going by without the huge and far reaching measures being taken that would prevent warming going above the crucial 2C.
Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State, says ‘the points raised by John Gossop on this topic in his book “Famine in the West” are very interesting. In al letter of 9th September 2007 he tells us he has ‘passed a copy to Defra policy officials for them to read.’
We look forward to their comments.