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What's the real cost of the food crisis?

Severe climate events are effecting key food producing regions across the world. The UK needs to have a serious conversation about food security.


How much has your food bill gone up since last year do you think?

I think for us it’s been about a 10-15% rise, but that could have been more. We’ve switched to a cheaper supermarket to offset the rising costs.

Not everyone can do this I know, as many are already living below the breadline and it doesn’t look like things are going to get any better soon.

So what can we do about this?

Well, earlier this month the UK Government published their long awaited food strategy.

Is this what we’ve been waiting for?

Not according to farmers, health campaigners and environmentalists (that’s pretty much everyone then)!

This half-baked strategy has completely ignored many of the recommendations of the Government's very own food advisor, Hugh Dimbelby, who described the Government’s plans as lacking in so much vision that it can’t even be called a strategy.

Now, I know the food system is complex and I'm not an expert. The relationships between agriculture, production, retail and distribution and the impact on health, climate change and the cost of living is well… all very complicated.

But despite the difficulties we face, the UK could be doing so much better.

Right now the food problems we're facing tend to be explained away as one of the consequences of the war in Ukraine, and of course Brexit. Whilst Ukraine is a major exporter of food, the crisis in food supplies started well before Putin sent his tanks across the border.

Climate change - and war - is having an increasingly severe impact on food production across the globe, leading to price rises and increasing rates of hunger and starvation for 10’s of millions globally, according to the World Health Organisation and Oxfam.

The World Food Programme estimates that currently 49 million people worldwide are facing emergency levels of hunger and 811 million people go to bed hungry each night.

Read that statistic again.

811 million people go to bed hungry each night.

Severe climate events are effecting key food producing regions across the world every day making it likely that that number will keep going up! Already this year we have had:

  • Heatwaves and floods in India and Bangladesh
  • Heavy rainfall in France followed by the recent heatwave
  • Drought in Italy
  • Heatdomes in Canada and the US
  • Floods in China
  • Droughts in East Africa and South America
  • Freak hailstorms in Mexico

Some yields have been 100% affected by the unprecedented weather this year.

If the food system were to crash, which is a very real possibility with the increasing stress expected, Central Banks can’t solve it the same way they 'solved’ the financial crisis. This isn’t something you can just throw money at.

So we have to get back to that question, what can be done about this?

I do think that many of us can make better food choices (although the cost of living crisis will make it harder for many to eat better as it comes at a cost).

But ultimately this isn’t about individual responsibility alone. Like many environmental challenges, it requires system change and the UK’s food policy needs to reflect that – unlike the lame and confused strategy published this month.

It means, for example, looking at the concentration of economic power in the food system. Looking at how we produce and consume food at a national and local level and its relationship with land use and the environment.

The UK needs to have a serious conversation about food security, food and health and how we could have agricultural production that supports diets that have less adverse impact on the environment.

Are you worried about food security?

What do you think should be done?

We can’t bury it under the carpet. It’s all too real and happening now.

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