Food crisis 'hidden' from public say campaigners

| 6th January 2010

The public remain uninformed about the real crisis in the food system, says soil association director Patrick Holden

Government is talking about issues like food security, climate change and oil dependency but failing to take the 'inconvenient' but necessary action says the Soil Association

Key policy speeches by the UK food and farming minister and Government chief scientist this week fail to admit the changes needed in the food system, according to the leading organic farming body, the Soil Association.

Speaking at the annual Oxford Farming Conference this week, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Hilary Benn, said: 'Food security is as important to this country's future wellbeing - and the world's - as energy security. We need to produce more food. We need to do it sustainably.'

His speech was followed by one from the Government's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, re-iterating his call for the use of genetically modified (GM) crops to increase production.

Wrong solution

However, Soil Association director Patrick Holden said neither GM technology, nor increasing food production would provide a long-term solution to tackling the food crisis.

He said the UK needed to phase out nitrogen fertilisers, switch to more rotational farming and reduce meat production - all of which he called 'inconvenient truths to the Government'.

'The constant availability of food draws us into a false sense of security,' Holden said. 'But really we are in a precarious position.

'The rhetoric of Government has changed; climate change, food security and oil and fossil fuel dependency are now all on the agenda but the inconvenient truth is that we if we are to tackle this issue then we will have to take action of the kind they do not want to discuss.

'We must give up nitrogen fertilisers and build soil fertility through crop rotation instead.

'I believe this one move will bring the most far-reaching change in agriculture since the agricultural revolution – and the most important,' he said.

Spending more on food

Holden also said consumers would have to face up to paying more for food - something sucessive governments have avoided discussing.

'In the 1970s we spent around 20 per cent of our income on food,' he said. 'That figure has now fallen to around 8-11 per cent...we pay too little for our food.'

Mr Holden added that only an 'informed public debate' on the current food system would bring the necessary changes, something he admitted the Soil Association and society as a whole had 'failed' to achieve.

Useful links

Oxford Farming Conference

Alternative rival - Oxford Real Farming Conference

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