Daily Archives: February 20, 2011

Could Britain be self-sufficient in food?

As the price of food rapidly rises on the world market the question of food security is once again on the agenda  of even the most committed globalist elite,  because in their heart of hearts all elites care about is sustaining their power and privilege and ideology counts for nothing when their position is threatened. As there is  nothing more likely to cause serious public disorder than the threat of hunger, the recent Labour Government commissioned  the  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to commission a report which examined the question in depth.  This was published in 2008 http://www.ifr.ac.uk/waste/Reports/DEFRA-Ensuring-UK-Food-Security-in-a-changing-world-170708.pdf

Being a product of NuLabour,  the report predictably concluded that Britain should not try to be self-sufficient but throw in her lot wholeheartedly with the EU and be terribly concerned about the Third World whilst worshipping at the altar of the market and green politics, for example:

“ UK production is of course crucial to our food supply, but it is not on its own sufficient for UK food security.  We should encourage a sufficient volume of domestic  production for the food supply chain as a whole, and that means continuing to encourage a market-driven, efficient and environmentally sustainable farming sector producing what consumers want”.  DEFRA Para 4.22)

Nonetheless, the report  produced a good deal of interesting analysis which suggested Britain might be able to  pinch feed itself at a pinch: “Crude calculations suggest that UK agricultural land could provide more than enough  food from arable production in terms of our daily calorific requirements, in theory making the UK self-sufficient”. (DEFRA report para 4.14).  

This is important because  food security  is along with energy security the most certain guarantee of a country’s sovereignty.  Moreover, energy security is bound up with food security, viz: “As a measure of domestic food security, self-sufficiency does not cover the processing and distribution of food, it does not allow for the imported energy on which domestic agriculture is directly and indirectly reliant, and it does not take account of the resilience of the supply chain.”  (DEFRA report Para  4.15)

How much food does the UK  currently produce?  The DEFRA report says “Currently the UK is 60% self-sufficient in all foods and over 74% self-sufficient in foods that can be produced in this country”.  (Para 4.12). This “self-sufficiency ranges from around 10% for fresh fruit to around 100% for cereals.  (Para 4.15).

60% is high in the modern period. Britain was last self-sufficient in food  in the first half of the 19th century.  With the Empire and a commitment to free trade, Britain’s self sufficiency  had dropped to 40% by 1914 and dropped to nearer 30% in the 1930s (DEFRA  Para 4.12 figure 1).    

Nonetheless,  by  the 1980s Britain produced nearer 70% of her food, partly as a result  of the protectionist measures  such as  the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, although it is worth noting that the EU restricts as well as encourages. For example, Britain could be more than self-sufficient in dairy products , but is restricted by the EU to producing even enough to meet her own needs viz.: “a phased liberalisation of EU milk production – due to come into full force in 2015 – should help the UK’s dairy farmers. Germany, for example, is allowed under the EU quota system to produce some 25bn litres of milk a year – twice what the UK is currently producing” .  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/20/milk-strikes-dairy-industry-farming) If  Britain left the EU she could put in place her own protectionist policies and produce as much as she wanted of a product for the home market.

Despite the substantial increase (several million) in the UK population in the past  twenty years,  it is  reasonable to assume that a significant increase in UK food production could occur  with the right protectionist measures  and the ever increasing yields of crops and products from animals due to improvements in plant varieties and husbandry  plus the potential of genetically modified (GM) foods.

There could also be a change in land use which would increase food production overall.   Land which is now marginal could be brought back into use and there could be a shift to more arable farming.  Much of the food now heavily imported, most notably fruit, could be produced at home  if was worth the trouble of producing,. Food would become more seasonal – no bad thing – and some foods which cannot be grown here  – citrus fruits, bananas  and son – might become rare, but these could be compensated for by such measures as the  re-introduction of orchards  for the production of the vast  variety of apples, plums and pairs which will grow here .

Then there are the UK food exports to toss into the equation.   How much food does  the UK export?   According to DEFRA  “in 2006 the value of food, feed and drink exports was £10.5 billion.” (DEFRA report Para 4.7).  If needed, much perhaps all, of this could be diverted to the home market.

Those are the producer options for increasing food security.  There are also things which retailers and customers can do.  There needs to be little waste before it gets to the consumer in the UK because of our highly sophisticated transport and storage systems.   However,   there are reasons why food  is discarded before it reaches the consumer. Food is lost through the fashion for vegetables and fruit which is uniform  in size appearance. This means that substantial amounts are discarded  or used  for animal feed.   As this fashion for uniform fruits and vegetables  is largely driven by the four largest supermarket chains which control two thirds of the British market (DEFRA Para 4.2), it could be ended by government action if we recovered our sovereignty and left the EU.

When food  gets to the shops, it will be discarded by the retailer in if runs  beyond the sell-by date.   As every student knows,  food can be safely eaten when it is beyond the sell-by date.  Discarding also takes place commonly  when the “best before” date is exceeded. There is even less reason to throw away the food than when the sell-by date is exceeded.    “Sell-by” and  “best before” dates  also cause consumers to throw away food unnecessarily.   If either or both dates were scrapped it would probably  reduce waste significantly.  Those who throw their hands up in horror such ask themselves how it was that the British population was not struck down in vast numbers in the days before  sell-by and best before labelling.

The amount which is thrown away  in Britain is vast: ‘“A staggering £10 billion worth of food is thrown away in Britain each year, a third of what we buy, according to a report published on Thursday.

“More than half of the 6.7 million tons of food that is thrown away each year – enough to fill Wembley Stadium eight times – is untouched and could have been eaten, according to the Government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme.

“Researchers found that more than £1 billion worth of wasted food was still “in date.” ‘ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3341796/Wasted-food-costs-UK-homes-10-billion.html

There is considerable scope for reducing waste which is equivalent to increasing production.  If food became scarcer or more expensive,   waste at all points in the production – delivery-consumption chain  would  diminish rapidly.

Finally, there is the question of whether  Britons eat more than is good for them. While not subscribing to the “obesity epidemic” panic, it is undoubtedly true that we are on average substantially fatter than we used to be. A glance at photographs and film of 50  or even 25 years  ago readily shows the difference. Probably  as a consequence of less manual labour at work and in the home and changes in diet,  Britons are not only generally taller but better padded now than they were .   However, whatever its reason, there is clearly scope for a reduction in food intake without causing any great harm. It is worth noting that the general health of the population improved during the years of rationing from 1939 onwards. 

Where does all this leave us?  With rationing and the stopping of food exports  we could probably feed the population immediately.   If we already produce 60% of the food we eat and perhaps raise that to 70% with the exports ,  there would be sufficient to keep people from starvation or serious malnutrition.   In the longer term, it would take  a few years to adjust  to producing more (and  Britain would  also have to secure her energy  and fertiliser  supplies),  but once the period of adjustment was over  it looks as though we  could do a little bit better  than “get by at a pinch”. 

Will such an adjustment  it happen? All it requires is the will amongst  our politicians to see that food self-sufficiency is as vital as military forces to the safety of a nation. It is not something which should be left to international market forces.

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