Call for international agreement on food security

In a statement on the UK's food security policy today, Defra secretary Hilary Benn is expected to call for an international agreement to tackle rising agricultural prices and environmental damage from food production.

In a statement on the UK's food security policy today (10 December), Defra secretary Hilary Benn is expected to call for an international agreement to tackle rising agricultural prices and environmental damage from food production.

In a speech to the Fabian Society this evening, Benn is expected to call for an international food security agreement, similar to the Kyoto climate change deal, in order to tackle the "perfect storm" of threats to global food security.

He will point out that, by 2050, the population of the world will rise to 9 billion and global food production will have to double to meet demand. "If we want to avoid too much demand chasing not enough world supply - which raises prices for everyone, including consumers in the UK - then we need to help create a stable food market that can meet global demand for future generations," he is expected to say.

Benn's statement comes after a six-month consultation on UK food security and rising food prices, a process prompted by the sharp rise in global food prices over the past two years, triggering social unrest and rioting around the world.

The government now views food security as a major priority and the first review Gordon Brown commissioned on becoming Prime Minister was a Cabinet Office Strategy Unit analysis of food issues. The initial report, published in January 2008, concluded that, "Existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future."

So far, Defra's line has reflected its faith in the global market to provide, but a new report by the Soil Association - 'An inconvenient truth about food' - suggests that the UK's food chain is neither secure nor resilient.

Robert Maynard, Soil Association campaigns director, said: "Looking at supermarket shelves laden with produce from around the world, it's hard to believe our food supply is anything but secure - a few months back the same would have been said about the global banking system.

"A truly sustainable and secure UK agriculture will require less oil and fewer chemicals. It will also need greater numbers of people involved in food production, as well as rebuilding essential infrastructure to support more localised food distribution."

The Soil Association report points out that the UK food chain is currently dependent on vast inputs of oil and chemical fertilisers, which face constraints on available, affordable supply and result in high greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, it states that 70% of Europe's livestock feed is imported, making the UK's food system deeply dependent on other countries' land, water, energy and labour. Friends of the Earth released a report yesterday exploring the impact of intensive farming and animal feed, concluding that European reliance on imported soymeal is having devastating consequences in the UK and the soy-producing countries of Latin America.

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