How well will Birmingham and other UK cities cope when (and it appears all too likely to be when not if) there are shortages and scarcities of food? We suspect not well at all.
Few outside the food sector have a realistic grasp of the scale, logistics and contingencies involved in growing, processing and delivering food to a population.
As this (brief) Briefing Note explains, until the mid-20th century, local leaders had an Eye on sufficient food for their citizens. This is not so now. Take, for example, latest published Risk Register we can find, dated 2014. It says only this about food supplies into the West Midlands on p17:
There are no realistic scenarios within the UK which would lead to a shortage of food supplies. However, if a large area of agricultural land became affected by an incident it amy affect the economy by impacting on food prices nationally.
This statement is, with hindsight, deeply concerning. It’s also a tad surprising as it was written shortly after the 20102 fuel tanker drivers’ strike when UK cities were within 24-48 hours of running out of fresh produce.
But national and local risk and resilience planning (a statutory duty under the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act) is focussed on the need for emergency ‘blue lights’ responses such as transport system crashes or other accidents, sudden floods, terrorist attacks, et al. And, although food security in 2014 already was a matter of concern for people living on low budgets as shown by the burgeoning growth of food banks then (and many more since), it rightly isn’t a matter for emergency services. (This situation begs the question, though, about what systems, planning and infrastructure the UK needs for responding to ‘slow burn’ risks that threaten society, such as the burden of diet-related disease, climate change, resource depletion and population pressures.)
Moreover national politicians, including Michael Gove when Defra Secretary of State, spoke of food being “in abundance“. Indeed, the last time political decision-makers responded to food supply threats was during and shortly after World War II when supplies were short owing to the blockage on shipping. (Rationing ended in July 1954.)
UK food security only began to be talked about again very recently, primed by the 2018 summer heatwave across the northern hemisphere, along with the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. (As for the latter, people with professional experience of the food sector have made their judgement of the gravity of the situation plain to the Government.)
note: Our concern about the lack of awareness of risk and resilience matters among local socio-political decision-makers led us to devise The Game, of which more see here.
Previous blogposts in this National Food Strategy series are: