April 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm #7459
UK food: Its official we have an (impending) crisis.
Must Britain now Dig for Survival?
Warnings of world food shortages are gathering pace and the horsemeat scandal has highlighted the provenance of food.
As a nation that imports 40 per cent of all the food we consume, Britain is in a precarious position if the supply chain breaks down due to poor harvests, rising international costs and competition from other countries clamouring to buy up dwindling stocks.
It was revealed earlier this month that our wet winter and freezing spring have led to the poorest potato yield (down 20 per cent on last year) since the drought of 1976. Jersey Royals will be at least a month late because of tardy planting due to adverse weather, and the price of a 2.5kg bag of white potatoes has risen by 43 per cent – up from £1.35 this time last year to £1.93. The carrot harvest has been hit by the waterlogged ground, peas and tomatoes have been affected by low levels of light, and Britain will also need to import more wheat than it exports for the first time in a decade.
It’s a bleak picture when the price of the weekly shop is already steadily rising. All the same, can it really be true, as agriculture minister David Heath claims, that unless householders start Digging for Victory (Survival, even), we will face empty shelves as supermarkets struggle to import enough food to feed us? Alarmingly, it would appear so.
According to Prof Lang, all assessments of the world’s food systems reach the same damning conclusion, namely that “a big crunch is coming”. Falling oil reserves – needed for fertilisers – climate change and a soaring global population are coming together in a perfect storm. (emphasis added)
“The only arguments are over what to do about it,” he says. “Some say that new technology will address the problem, but I’m one of those who say it can’t, because we would need four planet Earths to eat like the Americans and two to three planet Earths for us all to eat like Northern Europeans. What we need to do is radically change our diets.”
At present, 50 per cent of all grain grown in the world is fed to livestock. A dramatic reduction in meat and dairy consumption would free scarce land and resources for plant cultivation.
“It’s really important to get children involved in gardening and learn that fruit and vegetables don’t come wrapped in polythene,” says Andrea Van Sittart, head of regional development at the RHS. “And 17,000 schools signed up to our gardening in schools programme.”
When you grow something, you gain a different perspective on its value. In recent years the National Trust, once associated with the preservation in aspic of stately piles and ornamental gardens, has diversified into the cultivation of our horticultural heritage by creating 1,000 allotments, where communities can grow fruit and vegetables. The economic downturn has made a considerable impact, according to the National Allotment Society, with 150,000 people on waiting lists for council allotments and waiting times in London as long as 40 years. Figures released last December showed that the share of all fruit and veg grown in allotments and gardens rose from 2.9 per cent to 5 per cent between 2008 and 2011, an increase of 70 per cent.
But with the best will and the best weather in the world, it’s simply not possible for the average family to become self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. Alex Mitchell, author of Edible Gardener, admits that the Surbiton idyll of pigs and chickens and home-brewed wine portrayed by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall is far from the reach of most people.
“You can’t really grow all your own food unless you have about half an acre or more,” says Mitchell. “But you can cultivate little bits and pieces that make you feel more connected to the seasons and raise your awareness of the natural world around you. That, in turn, will make you think before you buy fruit that’s been flown half-way round the world and might change your shopping habits to support local growers more.”
But she does believe it’s possible to become self-sufficient in herbs, salad, garlic and even chillies. “Growing your own food is wonderfully life-affirming,” she says. “It also makes you feel as though you’ve won back a little control from the big supermarkets, and it’s resourceful.”
Add to the crisis the fact that 18 million tonnes of food in the UK goes to waste, and nearly 50% globally :
(from The Guardian)
Worldwide, it is estimated that about one-third of all food produced – worth around $1 trillion – gets lost or wasted in production and consumption systems, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).A recent report from the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers put the figure higher, warning that as as much as half of all the food produced in the world – equivalent to 2bn tonnes – ends up as waste every year.
A lot of this waste comes form supermarkets refusing to stock less than perfect fruit and veg, as their customers refuse to buy it. The co-op however have taken a stand on this, and with rising prices many other supermarkets are doing ‘basic’ lines of imperfect fruit and veg.
Food miles are the other big oil driven concern:
A “food mile” is the distance food travels from the farm to the store where you buy it, and these miles are costly to the environment. They are, in fact, among the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Long-haul trucking requires enormous amounts of fossil fuel, the combustion of which releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Keeping food cold and unbruised requires even more fuel in the form of refrigeration and packaging. And let’s not forget the impact of long-distance flyers such as apples from New Zealand and Chilean grapes. Distances have been increasing in recent decades, as foods increasingly are imported.
This and the food ‘merry-go-round’ that sees stories of UK grown potatoes shipped to Holland for washing, the to Poland for packing then shipped back to the UK. Recent concern over food miles has seen these practices reduced, but the roundabout still turns:
In the UK, we export nearly twice as much milk as we import. In other words, locally produced milk that could be consumed here is transported elsewhere to increase profits – and to inflate prices. Likewise, here in the UK we import 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb, while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb. It also imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat a year from the Netherlands and exports 33,100 tonnes to the Netherlands.
(From: p.15. ‘Stuffed’ © Feb 2010 Alistair Sawday Publishing Co.Ltd)
It is systems like these that will crash as oil becomes more expensive. It makes the pressing case for local food and produce. This also gets over the storage and some of the waste issues, as any natural waste can be recycled back into the system as ‘compost’, reducing the loss of nutrient to unrecoverable places like land fills where they cause more problems by turning toxic and producing methane, which is difficult to harvest. Much better to put the waste into an anaerobic digester and harvest it properly like this one.
The food ‘crisis ‘ is only going to get worse as the various components that make up the modern ‘food system’ come under pressure form finance and energy issues. Best get growing… :woohoo:
Sid.April 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm #7460
“soaring global population”
They don’t get it. Probably haven’t read Daniel Quinn. Less food=>less people.
In any case, population isn’t “soaring”. It’ll top by 2035, in less than a generation. As with the stock market, this is another example of projecting the past into the future in spite of readily available data—not to mention logic—to the contrary.
Fear trumps all in the absence of inquiry.April 22, 2013 at 8:21 pm #7461
In any case, population isn’t “soaring”.
Not sure quite what you mean, I suppose a billion in ten years isn’t soaring… But yes either way nature’s ‘sharp tooth and claw’ in the form of starvation will re-appear shortly:
Regardless of whether it soars or not, the current population level is unsustainable unless we find another ‘earth’:
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