Yesterday The Guardian published a story about predictions from John Beddington, the government’s chief scientist, concerning problems with energy, water and food supplies. He says that these issues will converge to create a ‘perfect storm’ in 2030.
This is the gravest warning yet that the world is on the edge of disaster. It does not come from an aging hippie, environmental campaigner, or anybody else that can be stereotyped and dismissed, but from the government’s chief scientist.
Beddington says that in just over 20 years the effects of climate change will cause summer droughts that will have a severe impact on food supplies. East Anglia, the biggest grain producing area in the UK, will be badly affected. The rest of the world will suffer a similar fate so it is no good looking to the ‘supply chain’ for food, there will be none to buy.
We have time to do something and a good start would be an honest realisation and admission by government that there are problems ahead. But the main political parties are so totally absorbed by getting, or retaining power, that they look no further than the next few years. That is just not good enough and ignoring food security is a major dereliction of duty. We need policies to strengthen food security and we need them now.
With this in mind I wrote to the leaders of the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green party on 2 February 2009. The letters were identical and asked each leader to say what policies they had to maintain and improve food security in the UK.
The text of the letter is reproduced below
Over the last few months I have become increasingly concerned about food security in the UK especially since the publication of the report from Chatham House, “Food Futures: Rethinking UK Strategy”.
As a voter I want to hear what policies you, as party leader, propose to maintain and improve food security. I do not a want a standard letter, a press release, lots of criticism of other parties or to be refereed to DEFRA for one of their standard replies. Instead, please tell me what you and your party intend to do about this.
So far the only reply is from the Green party. They included a copy of their policy but I have since found all of their policies on their web site; food security in covered in agriculture and food.
After about a month the Labour party responded saying that Gordon Brown was very busy so my letter had been referred to DEFRA. There is no mention of food security on their web site.
Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have bothered to reply.There is nothing about food on the Conservative party site apart from a campaign about food labeling. They want to ensure that pork pies contain British pork.The Liberal Democrat site, although better on climate change, does not mention food security.
There have been enough high powered reports from various independent think tanks and organisations stressing the urgency of building a more resilient food supply. What more is needed? Why is it so difficult for the government to admit there is a real problem and show some leadership and begin to promote changes in the way that food is grown and distributed?
Update 11 Apr 2009
At long last I have received a response from the Liberal Democrats. They say that they take the issue of food security very seriously so much so that they propose a change to the single farm payments. They want to set the minimum amount of the claim to £250 and use the money saved to introduce apprenticeships for hill farmers. Just how that relates to food security I have yet to fathom.
I have still not heard from DEFRA after the Labour party forwarded my letter.
The Conservatives are now the only party NOT to make any response at all and I can only assume they do not have any policies to communicate.
Update 23 June 2009
The Conservative party responded after I sent another letter. They do not have a policy on food security but did send a copy of a couple of speeches made by David Cameron and Baroness Neville-Jones where food security was mentioned.
The speech by Neville-Jones was about energy security! There were some very brief remarks about food security at the beginning but nothing really specific about having a food security policy. It almost looked as if she just did not believe there was an issue with a ‘we have seen it all before and nothing happened then’ remark similar to the arguments used by climate change sceptics!
Cameron’s speech talked a lot about the problems farmers now face. He made broad, general statements about helping farmers be more competitive but my impression is that he was soliciting votes – he was speaking at the NFU 100th anniversary event – rather than addressing the real issues. He was heavy on government bashing and rhetoric acceptable to his audience but very light on policy. Worse still, all he could see were small changes to conventional farming, things like making the single farm payments system easier to use and decoupling production from subsidies in the rest of the EU. There was nothing new, nothing that would really help produce more food. To me that shows that he did not understand the depth and urgency of the issue and certainly did not have any policies to tackle it.
So folks it looks as if we are on our own. Grow food or starve should be the new motto.