By Susie Weldon
We’re all going to have to eat far less meat and far more locally produced food if we are going to avoid a looming global food crisis, adapt to climate change and feed the world’s growing population.
That was the message from the Bristol-based Soil Association’s annual conference which has The Future of Food as its theme.
Launching the conference, held in Birmingham yesterday and today, Soil Association director Patrick Holden said the UK’s food and farming systems stood at a crossroads and needed a national action plan on the scale of the war effort.
“After 60 years of the industrial intensification and globalisation of our food systems, we’ve now reached what’s acknowledged by our chief scientist Professor John Beddington as the threshold of a global food crisis,” he said.
The booming world population, global warming, diminishing resources and worries over food security meant we needed a radical overhaul of food and farming systems to make them more sustainable.
Yet, there was “a lack of understanding among the public of the seriousness of the situation”, he said. “We have a potential crisis on our hands and we have a disconnect with the public that we have to overcome.”
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, agreed we could not continue on a “business as usual” basis. “We have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot take for granted the way we’ve been doing things in the past; we’ve been acting in an unsustainable way,” he said.
He said the world’s population was expected to grow by an extra 2 to 3billion in the next few years, presenting a huge challenge to agriculture to provide enough food. At the same time, we had to reduce our impact on carbon emissions — in farming as well as elsewhere in our lives.
That presented a huge challenge ahead, both in terms of what we ate and how we prduced that food.
He pointed out that there was already a huge disparity in global food systems: “One billion people go to bed hungry every night and one billion people plus are obese or overweight,” he said.
“In Britain we spend 11% of our income on food, half what it was 20 or 30 years ago. In some parts of the world people spend 80% of their income on food.
“We’ve learned how to live within our means in terms of money. This is the century in which we have to learn how to live within our means in other respects — carbon emissions and the way we use our natural resources.”