A frightening future for food if temperatures rise

UK consumers could be forced to trade in personal carbon credits to enjoy a roast dinner and rely on lab-grown meats if the food industry and government don't start tackling some of the difficult decisions around climate change.

Restaurants could also prove too pricey for all but the richest in society and pills could replace vegetables.

The stark warning comes in a new report published today by researchers at the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) in Manchester, which highlights the “radical changes” in food availability if global temperatures continue to rise.

Environmentalists have welcomed the report as further evidence of the urgent need to change consumption patterns, including less meat. However, the food industry has said it is aware of the issues and that consumers will shape the consumption patterns of the future.

The report, entitled ‘What’s Cooking’, details a number of possible scenarios, based on temperature rises of two and four degrees by 2050. In a ‘4°C’ world, food availability would “suffer” with rice harvests falling by 30% and the UK reliant on indoor farming to produce livestock.

Meat would be seen as a treat that shoppers would have to use precious carbon points to buy and “factory-prepared novel foods would be accepted”, including “lab steaks”.

Keeping temperature rises to two degrees, and avoiding the lab steaks, will require the smarter use of technology as well as shifts in consumption said Dr Alice Bows, who led the two-year study.

The debate surrounding the impact of food consumption on climate change has raged for some years. One scenario in the SCI’s report showed a rising number of marketing campaigns from the big food brands designed to shift the balance away from meat-based meals. Vegetarian restaurants would also be commonplace in a ‘2°C’ world.

Environmentalists insist that meat consumption must fall to have any hope of avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’ (that above two degrees). “To meet the targets in the Climate Change Act we have to deal with livestock consumption,” said WWF-UK One Planet Food lead Mark Driscoll. “We don’t have time to wait for the market to adjust.”

However, the food industry insisted that the market and the consumer would be the ones to drive any change in consumption. The Food and Drink Federation said that could well include less meat if it becomes too expensive in a resource-constrained world. However, any intervention to artificially alter consumption patterns more quickly would have to come from government, insisted FDF director of sustainability Andrew Kuyk.

Dr Bows suggested that government may well have to get involved in an area where it has, to date, shown reticence. “If Governments like the UK’s want to take action to avoid a 2°C temperature rise, they must […] better understand how UK consumption is linked to the emissions right down global supply chains,” she said.

Next week the Government is expected to publish the results of its Green Food Project which will “make the whole food chain as sustainable as possible”. However, the project has been criticised by the Environmental Audit Committee as too narrow.

edie staff

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