The COVID crisis has exposed the fragility of our food supply system
In the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, citizens should not have to go to charities for food.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, the Government has left food supply to the private sector (supermarkets) and charities (foodbanks) rather than taking responsibility themselves. Emma Revie, CEO of the Trussell Trust, said recently ‘We have seen rises in foodbank need for the past 5 years but this 89% increase is completely unprecedented. ’ This is despite the Government adding £20 per week to Universal Credit at the beginning of lockdown, because it was not enough to live on – and it clearly still isn’t.
Green Party Policy says that ‘Everyone has a right to enjoy a sufficient diet of nutritious and safe food for a healthy life. The market-led approach has failed to provide this there are now increasing levels of food poverty and diet-related ill-health’.
From 1955 the UK Government maintained WW2 stockpiles of food in warehouses and silos across the country in case of emergencies. Unfortunately, the Major government dismantled them in 1995. The Green Party would encourage the maintenance of adequate food reserves at local and regional level to offset ‘shocks’ (like pandemics, crop failures, a no-deal Brexit, or wars) leading to food scarcity.
In 2019 the Lancet produced the EAT Target paper – a diet for feeding the world population that would reduce climate change and food poverty. It states that ‘Healthy diets should be 50% fruit and vegetables – the other 50% should consist of primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils and (optionally) moderate amounts of animal sources’ and that this would produce ‘ …significant health benefits globally… ’.
Professor Tim Lang of City University of London points out that UK agriculture is ‘…only producing 50% of the food we eat. We need 80% self sufficiency. The prioritisation of price has hollowed out UK agriculture – primary producers only get 5-6% of the value of the food they produce – they need at least 10-20%’.
To survive future shocks we need to import only what we can’t grow ourselves. Professor Lang says ‘Of 6 million hectares of cultivatable land in Britain, only 168,000 hectares are used for fruit and vegetables, therefore we have to import vast amounts of crops we could otherwise be growing.’ Much of the remaining land is used for crops to feed livestock, or for processed foods.
Importing so much food also means the use of fossil fuels to transport them, causing more climate change, which affects the ability of the world to grow such crops, through drought, flood and disease.
To reduce the vulnerability of our food supply to the climate emergency and rises in fossil fuel prices, the Green Party supports localisation, self reliance and a shortening of the food chain, together with more equitable trade and distribution globally.
Growing food and selling it more locally will mean burning less fossil fuels. Local food will be fresher and more seasonal and will bring a sense of community and a local food culture. It will make us more resilient to changes in global supply and contribute to future food security. It will also support more small-scale environmentally friendly farmers and growers and support our rural economy.
We have seen too many people suffer from coronavirus, without on top of that having to turn to charity to feed themselves. We have the shocks of a possible no deal Brexit and of climate change looming.
Food security is a duty of Government; they must act to protect the people and ensure that the UK is more self sufficient in healthy food that does not cause further damage to the environment.