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It’s time we recognise that food is as big a problem as energy, and call on the UK Government to step up and ask: why isn’t our food system delivering?


It’s time we recognise that food is as big a problem as energy, and call on the UK Government to step up and ask why isn’t our food system delivering?

Whilst energy prices are soaring, so too are food prices. In fact, the numbers are quite frightening; food price inflation is currently running at 14.5% (Office for National Statistics, October 2022). But who knows, that might be more by the time you read this email!

Having to make the choice between heating and eating is unacceptable in the fifth richest country in the world, and yet that’s the reality facing too many this winter.

Why is food so much more expensive in 2022?

Around 50% of the UK’s food is imported (80% fruit and veg), leaving us particularly vulnerable to ‘shocks’ in our food system, and with the war in Ukraine – often described as ‘Europe’s bread basket’ – we all know exactly what a shock can look like.

What’s often not understood is the extent to which the food sector is highly concentrated, with a handful of global companies controlling a high proportion of food commodities. This means our food system is vulnerable to breakdown and can be manipulated, just like the finance sector in 2008 and energy supplies currently.

Brexit has, of course, made things worse. With so much of our imported food coming from Europe, we’ve put in place additional barriers to food trade and limited the number of seasonal workers, leaving crops to rot in fields. The recent trade deals with Australia and New Zealand have actually made it harder for UK agriculture and food producers to compete, either in terms of cost or environmental quality.

What about climate change?

Food production currently is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for around 37% all greenhouse gas emissions (New Scientist 2021). But this isn’t an unavoidable consequence of having to feed the world; the type of food we consume defines how damaging it is.

For example, we know eating less red meat is good for us and the planet. To create 1 calorie of beef requires 25 calories in terms of the inputs required to raise cattle. This is hugely inefficient and comes at great cost to the environment from land use (deforestation), chemical inputs and emissions.

With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, food production is less predictable across the globe. The effects of climate change on food availability and prices will increasingly affect us all, but the greatest impact will be felt by those who live in highly vulnerable countries such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

I’m not here to spread fear, but we have to look at what’s happening and ask how long before we start to see food wars rather than oil wars? Maybe we’re already seeing it with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine!

Burying our head in the sand (or soil) isn’t going to work. It’s time we had a serious conversation about the UK's food security and policy. We haven’t really addressed this since World War II and have left it to market-based solutions – assuming that the private sector will always provide. We all know how well that story goes!

We need to address the balance of food production, land use, food security and diet. Not easy stuff. But unless we get all these factors in balance then we’ll continue to face an increasingly insecure food system, with rising food prices which will hit the poorest hardest.

So what can we do?

I can get lost in all this, the stats alone can be scary and overwhelming. I find myself wondering if I can ever do enough when there’s so much that needs to be done

But that’s why I’m here, showing up and taking action connected to my own purpose. All of us are worried about this reality. But if things are ever going to change, it needs all of us to each play our part; to take action based on our own purpose.

None of us can do this alone.

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