This blogpost gives detailed info associated with my presentation to the Inside Government event Working towards global food security in London on 26th April 2018.
from Chapter 19 of Lizzie Collingham’s The Taste of War
1946: Hunger affected hundreds of millions after the ending of Word War II. In addition to the devastation caused by war and the many millions made homeless, drought damaged harvests across the world, and here in the UK, the winter of 1946-7 was bitterly cold.
800M people, a third of the world’s population, faced starvation, including many millions in Europe. Rationing was put in place after the war ended, as well as during. In Rome in 1946, the basic ration was 665 calories per day per person, infant mortality was 438 per 1000 live births.
Today the situation looks ominous for the future, as the following information indicates:
- There is no more agricultural land. Indeed, there will be less land, perhaps up to a third less land available for agriculture than we have today. (See the summary of Professor Elliott’s talk at our horizon scanning discussion dinner on page 2 of our report Back from the Future.)
- Water: The UN have forecast between 24M and 700M people will be forcibly displaced owing to water scracity between 2025 and 2030. (See also pp18-19 of our briefing paper on the food and drink section for the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP.)
- East Anglia is now classed as semi-arid.
- The 2017 GFS report on Environmental tipping points and food system dynamics has several Case Studies. One is East Anglia as a dustbowl (p10-11).
To quote Professor Elliott at our horizon scanning dinner discussion event: If you don’t have water security, you don’t have food security.
- More about climate change impacts: Another case study in the same GFS report is the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) (p11-12). The latter is highly dangerous to the food system and to the wellbeing of peoples across the world. See also this deeply worrying April 2018 Nature report Ocean circulation is changing and we need to know why.
- The UK has been losing 1-3 cms of top soil per year since 1850. (See the Climate Change Committee Progress Report to Parliament 2015; on this topic, see also pp33-38 of the CCC Managing the land in a changing climate: Adaptation Sub-committee Progress Report 2013)
- Soils are also depleted of nutrients, as this NASA/JPLCaltech map shows:
- There’s a body on research on how soil nutrients affect the nutrients in food; see, for example, this Scientific American article Dirt poor: Have fruits and vegetables become less nutritious?
- I mentioned stats about the nutritional content of food in the UK between 1946 and 2002. This is based on a paper by David Thomas published in Nutritional Health (2007) The mineral depletion of foods available to us as a nation (1940-2002) — a review of the 6th Edition of McCance and Widdowson. According to this correction to a Felicity Lawrence Guardian article in February 2006, the information was first published in the Food Magazine in 2006 (which I can’t find), and that there was some challenge to these and other similar findings from the food and farming industry.
- Soil contamination: Scott Rozelle’s research suggests there is a reduction in cognitive function in up to a third of Chinese children owing to heavy metal exposure during the first 2-3 years of life when cognitive development is crucial.
- an important aside: the CMO’s 2014 Annual Report citied, a nutritious diet during the first 1000 days of a toddler’s life, starting at conception, has significant, measurable impact on educational achievement and, because of that on a nation’s or region’s GDP.
The UK imports ~40% of its food requirement — and it could be more with poor harvests, and will be more if a hard Brexit happens.
At the outbreak of World War II, the UK imported 70% of the food it required. Today, although the UK population has increased by a third, we import ~40%. That is, providing our harvests are good. After the 2012 floods, we imported ~50% of the food we ate the following year. Given the late planting this year owing to poor weather, food imports are likely to rise this coming year. If Brexit happens, we will also import more, owing to a variety of factors notably those affecting primary production. (See this list of papers et al about Brexit and food systems.)
Since 1939, the world’s global population has increased by 300% and is increasing by 83M/year.
This, along with climate change impacts, mean that global competition for food is increasing, as Parveen Mehta describes in this video interview.
Parveen is a Director of Minor Weir and Willis. He informed us that fruit and veg wholesale businesses in the UK run on a 0% to 2.5% profit margin; i.e. it is a precarious business in which scale matters.
There is more about Parveen in this blogpost: Food System Dynamics: Part I — Follow the money . . . but it isn’t here. This blogpost also has information about Simon Beckett of Becketts Farm, 8 miles south of the city centre, and where the 31st March 2018 Farming Today broadcast was made.
In the broadcast, Simon’s talks about his family farm of 1000 acres. Now arable, the land is worth £1500/acre, so there is £15M capital tied up in the business. This barely scrapes a profit. The business makes twice the profit on the 9-metree butchery counter in their farm shop than it does from farming.
Worldwide, it’s difficult if not impossible to make a living from primary production. Yet without primary production, we haven’t got a food system.
There are big economic stresses in our local system, too.
For every £1 we spend on food and drink in the city, we spend >£0.90p on its dietary effects. This blogpost gives the relevant figures I gave in my presentation, and where we got them from.
It’s also a means to identify those corporations who provide such products. They currently dominate the global food and drink sector, as described in Food System Dynamics: Part II — Follow the money. There is also an explanation as to why I included the company Altria in the Forbes 2017 list.
This blogpost Food System Dynamics: Part III — Vested interests is about the paper by Professor Sir Andy Haines about why humanity is hamstrung in doing what needs to be done, and my discussions with him about an earlier info-graphic.
An example of vested interests on governments and universities: The image at the top of this blogpost is about vested interests (slide 9 of this PDF version of the presentation). In my talk, at this point, I recounted a conversation I’d had at an InnovateUK-led Knowledge Transfer Network meeting, here in Birmingham among university scientists and ‘industry partners’.
The ‘industry partners’ are those in the Forbes 2017 list. (Neither the likes of Simon Beckett nor Parveen Mehta are at such meetings as they don’t have the time nor the money to go.)
Hence I had a weird conversation with a bright, highly educated (PhD in nutrition or some such) young woman who worked for one of the confectionery companies. She explained to me what she wanted te university research for was to help them increase the nutritional value of their products and, I quote, ‘make them pass more slowly through the alimentary canal‘.
I couldn’t help but think (and say) what was the point of trying to make a chocolate bar have the same physiological response on a ‘consumer’ as a sprig of broccoli? Hence these two builds to slide 10 to give graphic illustration of vested interests at work:
Our Action Research programme
There’s more about our Action Research in this blogpost, including the ‘bike’ info-graphic. Since that was written, we’ve done more work on it, including winning an Awards for All grant for a community engagement project.
note: We’ve called Community Choices: Changing diets, Changing landscapes (aka The 4Cs).
An outcome of our horizon scanning project
Our recommendation for a UK Food Security Institute with its remit is at the beginning of our horizon scanning report Back from the Future, and a reiteration within context is on page 9.
The presentation slides
This link takes you to a PDF of the presentation slides. (As the slides contain two video clips, it is of humungous size, hence a PDF here.)
A list of all our publications is on our website here.
I began my talk with this clip from food crime musical, The Hand That Feeds which includes the interviews with Professor Chris Elliott and Nicola Temple.
Finally, this info-diagram below lists some of the more important activities and projects the Birmingham Food Council has done and is doing (and a version with links to more info is here):