Benn, GM and a farming revolution
2.A farming revolution is needed - Tim Lang
3.Comments on Defra's food security reports
- Food Ethics Council
NOTE: Items 2 and 3 show how focusing on GM creates a useful media-diversion from the challenging questions about fairness and sustainability that really need to be faced.
QUOTES: "Some think genetic modification could be the technical fix for today. But even the most gung-ho GM supporter knows that it cannot resolve the new fundamentals of food, principally climate change”¦ For the British diet to be sustainable, it will have to lower its carbon and water footprints. That probably means a big reduction in meat and dairy, but more fruit and veg; fewer animals reared on cereals (using the land twice over) but more fed on grass, which allows them to lock carbon into the soil. Some argue that this more labour-intensive food system could be good for jobs and biodiversity. Let's hope so. The current system cannot go on." - Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London (item 2)
"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 the world's transport." - Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth's senior food campaigner
"Food systems must become less dependent on fossil fuels, more resilient in the face of climate change, and able to contribute to the Government's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Farming based on organic principles can deliver against all three challenges." - Helen Browning, of the Soil Association, 10 August 2009
1.Buy-one-get-one-free offers should be scrapped by supermarkets to save immense food wastage, say ministers
By Sean Poulter
Daily Mail, 11 August 2009
Supermarkets' buy-one-get-one-free offers should be scrapped and replaced with half price offers, ministers have said.
The measure would be one way of slashing the amount of food binned in the UK every year.
It is estimated that cutting out unnecessary wastage would be equivalent to removing one fifth of traffic from the UK's roads.
Banning such offers and repackaging food in a variety of sizes to cater for single people as well as couples and families would also promote healthy living and improve the nation's diet.
The Government's waste watchdog estimates that 4.1million tonnes of food is thrown away each year, at an average cost of £420 per household.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wants stores to sign up to stringent targets on waste reduction.
Yesterday Environment Secretary Hilary Benn launched a series of reports entitled Food 2030, which contained the proposals.
He said: 'Last year, the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises, but the full environmental costs and the costs to our health remain significant and hidden.
'We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.
'We need everyone on the food system to get involved, from farmers and retailers to the health service, schools and consumers.'
Also on the agenda was the thorny issue of GM crops, with Mr Benn saying they were one way of preventing future food shortages.
But his remarks immediately raised fears that ministers were using a panic over the effects of climate change and population growth to force so-called Frankenstein foods on to the nation's dinner tables.
The comments came as a Government study painted a doomsday scenario of a planet running out of food unless drastic action is taken.
It claimed global food production would have to rise by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed a population expected to rise from six billion to nine billion.
Biohazard sign in GM field
Solution or biohazard? Hilary Benn says GM crops could help solve food shortages, but some Green groups think they could cause global disaster
Mr Benn said British farmers would need to produce much more food and suggested that turning to genetically modified crops might be part of the answer.
However, questions remain over the effect on human health of eating them and the environmental impact on wildlife of GM farming systems which rely heavily on chemicals.
Mr Benn told Today on Radio 4: 'If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products.
But critics argued that the only beneficiaries of GM technology are the U.S.-dominated multi-national chemical giants behind it.
Older generations used to sniff food to tell if it was still edible
GM advocates have for decades been promising crops that would survive droughts and feed the hungry of the Third World.
In fact, the only major food crops in commercial production - soya and maize - are in highly-intensive Western-style factory farms.
Many European states have banned some GM crops because of health and environmental concerns. The GM Freeze campaign is a national alliance of groups including green campaigners, charities and the National Federation of Women's Institutes who are sceptical about Frankenstein foods.
Its director, Pete Riley, said: ' Ministers must avoid being taken in by claims that GM crops are solutions, because there is very little evidence that promises of drought-tolerant or high-yielding crops produced using genetic modification will be fulfilled.'
Helen Browning of the Soil Association, which supports organic farming, said: 'We need to completely transform the way we will feed ourselves in the future. Technology will be important, but the search for a "silver bullet" like GM to solve all these problems is a dangerous distraction.'
Labour has presided over sharp falls in British food production and the decimation of large parts of the industry over the past decade.
The amount of land to grow crops has been cut by more than 20 per cent leading to a huge reduction in home- produced fruit and vegetables.
The Government's push on GM coincides with the decision to appoint former Labour minister and GM supporter Lord Rooker as chairman of the Food Standards Agency
It is about to launch a 12-month campaign to persuade the public to accept GM.
2.A farming revolution is needed
Daily Telegraph, 11 August 2009
*We need political and social policies rather than agricultural ones alone, writes Tim Lang.
[Tim Lang is Professor of Food Policy at City University London]
The key issues of food production divide the present Labour government just as they divided the last Tory one, and who knows they may well divide the next. Do we feed ourselves or do we allow others to do so? Do we need farmers or do we assume that we are rich enough to buy on open markets?
Is the priority to keep food cheap or to lower its carbon footprint and the cost of diet-related health care? Are consumers modern gods, or should they have their choices restricted before they even see the food on shelves?
Answering these questions is tricky. The Government thinks food supply can be managed by trading gains on some scores for losses on others. I don't. The only future for us and the planet is to put food systems, both here and globally, on a sustainable course. It's sustainability or bust.
That's easy to say but if we are to achieve it, new priorities will be required, such as soil conservation, setting aside land for food rather than houses or motorways, eating differently and accepting a choice of 7,000 items in supermarkets not 30,000.
For the past two decades, British food production has gently declined. From a high point in the early 1980s when we produced 80 per cent of our own food, self-reliance is back to the levels at the end of the Second World War.
Neo-liberals are not worried. In the Treasury, some parts of Defra, and across the political spectrum, it's common to hear the view that Britain is rich, can buy on world markets, and ought to concentrate on delivering only what can be grown, processed and sold efficiently.
Efficiency is god. A subtext is that farmers are trouble. They cost the taxpayer big money, not least in bail-outs: think BSE and foot and mouth. Social liberals see this as an opportunity for our near neighbours to feed us, not just in the EU but particularly Africa, where land and labour are cheaper.
The problem is that this ignores the new fundamentals coming into play: climate change, water shortage, land pressures, a rocketing population, energy uncertainties, the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity and urbanisation on an unprecedented scale.
Today there are next to no food stocks, either globally or nationally. The 30,000 items arrive in supermarkets through just-in-time delivery systems, laser bar codes, computerised logistics and satellites, all held together by tough contracts and international food purchasing lines.
That's the hidden labour behind the juggernauts belting up and down our motorways. Food accounts for one in four lorry movements on British roads; half of those trips are empty. We throw away up to 30 per cent of the food we buy, but the system wastes energy, land and labour, too.
And here's where the politics gets tricky and crosses party boundaries. Modern food systems were heralded half a century ago as banishing waste, bringing down prices and increasing choice. They have done that, but only by displacing the waste elsewhere in the system, and the costs have simply been externalised dumped on to the environment or health care bills (all those cheap calories making us fat).
The political parties are united in vagueness, so what can be done? The Common Agricultural Policy will be key. Despite seeming government hostility to the CAP, British resilience is now EU dependent. We are increasingly fed by Europe. So getting Europe to adopt a sustainable food policy has to be a priority.
Some think genetic modification could be the technical fix for today. But even the most gung-ho GM supporter knows that it cannot resolve the new fundamentals of food, principally climate change. That's because the problems need political and social policies rather than agricultural ones alone.
For the British diet to be sustainable, it will have to lower its carbon and water footprints. That probably means a big reduction in meat and dairy, but more fruit and veg; fewer animals reared on cereals (using the land twice over) but more fed on grass, which allows them to lock carbon into the soil. Some argue that this more labour-intensive food system could be good for jobs and biodiversity. Let's hope so. The current system cannot go on.
3.Comments on today's food security reports from Defra
Food Ethics Council, 10 August 2009
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has today published:
*Food 2030, an online discussion seeking views on the future of our food system;
*"Food Matters: One Year On", providing an update on progress on the 2008 Cabinet Office report; and
Draft indicators for the sustainability of the food system.
Comments on these publications from Dr Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council:
“Defra deserves credit for taking a systematic approach to assessing food security and acting on earlier concerns that sustainability needed to be central to that appraisal.
“The biggest challenge is to see the wood for the trees. That means recognising the roots of food insecurity stretch way outside the food sector, which raises the question of whether Defra has enough clout across government to do what’s required.
“For instance, a big factor in food insecurity is income inequality, and you can’t crack that by fiddling about with food prices. It calls for better social protection in the UK and internationally.
“Another big question mark is over climate change. One of government’s most important commitments in Food Matters was to push for European climate agreements to take account of methane and nitrous oxide from farming, yet so far all that’s happened is a seminar with the French.
"These examples suggest Defra is obliged to turn a blind eye to issues that raise questions about the fairness and sustainability of the wider economy, however important they might be. To achieve its aims, the department needs a stronger mandate from the government."
1. For details of Defra’s reports please contact the Defra press office on 0207 238 5610.
2. The Food Ethics Council is a charity that provides independent advice on ethical issues in food and farming (www.foodethicscouncil.org). Our aim is to create a food system that is fairer and healthier for people and the environment.