Food security climbs political agenda

The issue of food security for the UK is climbing up the political agenda as climate change and the steady rise in global population put pressure on the world's ability to produce enough to go round.

A government dossier published this week acknowledges that while the densely populated country is never likely to be self-sufficient, Britain needs to move away from its heavy reliance on imported food.

The UK Food Security Assessment package was published on Monday and included benchmarking of how the country is performing in its efforts to produce food more sustainably as well as some future gazing with predictions of how things might look 20 years down the line.

Water is flagged up as the main environmental concern, in terms of both its availability for agriculture and food processing as well as the ability of polluted seas to support current fish stocks.

The documents also flag up the balance that needs to be found between protecting soil quality and biodiversity and increasing productivity of available land.

This is likely to rekindle the great genetic modification debate, as advocates of a technological fix square off against those who claim the risks are too high for unproven returns.

Defra Secretary Hilary Benn said: “Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises. While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden.

“We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.”

Government plans to published a detailed food strategy later this year, which Mr Been said would need to “cover all aspects of our food – production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption and disposal. And that includes the impact on our health, on the environment and future productivity, and on how we deal with food waste.”

Most environmental commentators have welcomed the fact that food security appears to be a growing blip on Government’s radar, but claim the current assessments under-estimate the potential scale of the problem.

Nick Reeves, executive director of environmental institute CIWEM, said: “A third of all people who have ever lived are alive today. In an era of climate change the biggest threat to food security is population growth, increased consumption and food waste.

“Unless these issues are tackled head on the need for food imports will grow, increasing the risk to supplies, higher food prices and the inability of the country to feed itself.”

Friends of the Earth’s Senior Food Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: “The Government is finally waking up to the fact that food security is a UK issue, but it has failed to introduce decisive policies to tackle the food industry’s global environmental impacts and to secure sustainable and fair food supplies.

“Ministers are still fixated on genetic modification but this isn’t a solution – GM crops do not have higher yields and the mythical drought and salt resistant crops still exist only as expensive PR promises rather than commercial reality.

“Although it has recognised the need to cut carbon emissions from the food industry, the Government has neglected to set out plans for the most damaging sector – meat and dairy – which creates more climate-changing emissions than all the world’s transport.”

Sam Bond

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