The first food security assessment ever carried out by a UK government has been published, and it says that the country needs to change the way food is produced and the way it is processed, to maintain a healthy and affordable food ‘base’ in the future.
Food security story has changed
While Winston Churchill’s government did undertake food security surveys during World War II, these encompassed food production across the ‘Commonwealth and dominions’ so this new food security assessment is a snapshot of what the UK has been doing well and badly since the early 1950s.
The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that the UK has a strong food system, which is typified by diverse food supplies and a strong distribution network, but will be challenged when it comes to maintaining sustainability in this food supply. The challenge of a growing and aging population is complicated by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, both of which will require changes to the location of crops and the kind of food grown. Water is a key issue and the depletion of fish stocks around British territorial waters is a concern.
Food and health
Another key concern is the relationship between food and health and the report says that ‘diet-related illness’ costs the UK ‘billions’ of pounds a year.
The report also contains draft indicators for the sustainability of the food system – once agreed, these indicators will be used to measure future food security issues and are hoped to serve as an early warning system. They will include recognising hikes in oil prices that affect the cost of food production severely.
A final substantial challenge is ensuring that current food production methods doesn’t damage or limit the natural resources on which future food production may depend.
The UK strategy for future food security will be published later in 2009, building on this report and on a consultation process that follows the report’s launch.