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In a review of food issues published in January 2008, the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit acknowledged that 'existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, or resource-constrained future', and that 'existing patterns of food consumption will result in our society being loaded with a heavy burden of obesity and diet-related ill health.' [1] [2] [3]

Defra’s 2008 report on UK food security, whilst recognising the threat of climate change to global agriculture does not appear to see it or the additional challenge of ‘peak oil’ as presenting major difficulties for UK farming or the global markets, "The UK currently enjoys a high level of national food security, which reflects the diverse and abundant supply of foodstuffs available in our supermarkets. We produce much of our food ourselves, and because the UK is a developed economy, we are able to access the food we need on the global market." [4]

That statement seems dangerously complacent when the facts of the UK’s food security and vulnerability are considered.

News UK August 2009 Edit

Resources Edit

  • ‘An inconvenient truth about food – Neither secure nor resilient’, Soil Association 2008. Background research by the Centre for Food Policy, City University. ‘Rethinking Britain’s Food Security, 2008.

Random facts Edit

  • Globally, agriculture is the largest source of the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, which is 310 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. The main source of nitrous oxide is from artificial fertilisers. To make 1 tonne of Nitrogen fertiliser requires 1 tonne of oil and 108 tonnes of water – in the process giving off over 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases. Emissions from the manufacture and delivery of nitrogen fertilisers account for an additional 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and 1.1% of the UK’s total greenhouse emissions. Source: Soil Association, December 10 2008
  • According to Defra, the UK is currently 60% self-sufficient for all food stuffs consumed in the UK, with 40% imported (other government data gives a UK self-sufficiency figure of 49%). That overall figure hides much larger gaps, such as 90% of all fruit consumed in the UK being imported. Source: Soil Association, December 10 2008
  • The UK is currently around 58% self-sufficient in all foodstuffs consumed here, but much lower for certain food groups - over 90% of all fruit and 50% of vegetables are imported. Overall there’s been a 23% drop in food self-sufficiency since 1995.
  • Less than 1% of the UK population works in agriculture. When Cuba ‘lost’ its imports of fuel, fertiliser and pesticides following the collapse of the Soviet Union - some 15-24% of the country’s labour force had to be turned to growing food. In the UK in the early 1900s some 40% of the population was engaged in farming.
  • 57% of UK Grade1 farmland (best) is at risk from climate change related sea level rise of between 26 - 86cm by the 2080s; making arable farming unviable on 86% of the Fens; 10% of the remainder of East Anglia, and 7% of the North West - unless expensive adaptations are made to flood defences. [6]
  • 44% of the UK’s arable soils are suffering from erosion, 36% at moderate to serious risk (Soil Survey England & Wales, R. Evans et al). Across Europe, soil erosion and degradation seriously affects near 157 million hectares (16% of Europe, nearly 3 times the total surface of France), making it the major environmental problem linked to the shift to intensive agriculture.

Quotes Edit

"Traditionally, food security has been seen as an issue only for developing countries - and that view still dominates Government thinking. But climate change and scarcer, more costly oil threaten to unravel our current food and farming system too.

"With its dependence on oil and fossil-fuel based chemicals, the majority of present day UK agriculture is less resilient than the form of mixed farming that overcame the U-boat blockade of our food imports during world war two. Ironically, it is more vulnerable to the coming challenges of climate change and peak oil than the low-input, high-labour agriculture practised by many developing country farmers." Robin Maynard, Soil Association campaigns director.

External links


  1. Food: an analysis of the issues, Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, January 2008.
  2. Whilst nearly 1 billion people are undernourished in the South; 2 billion are overweight or obese in the North. Diet-related illness (coronary heart disease, diabetes) cost the NHS £10 billion annually
  3. Soil Association October 15 2008
  4. 'Ensuring the UK’s food security in a changing world', Defra, July 2008
  5. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, August 10, 2009
  6. IPCC and UK Government sources

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