The National Food Strategy didn’t consider UK preparedness for future food shortages and scarcities, as we ask in this fourth question about the National Food Strategy. Few do.
But they should have done.
Why few don’t think about it is because, with the exception the refugees here who have fled from war and hunger, no-one in the UK has suffered famine per se since the 1840s. Indeed, it was only with the 2018 summer heatwave across the northern hemisphere coupled the prospect of a hard Brexit that stories about possible food shortages began to appear in the media.
Three years since that long, hot 2018 summer followed by winter floods, the prospect of wide-spread food shortages and scarcities isn’t being taken seriously, despite the substantial 40% drop in the 2019-20 UK wheat harvest (the floods were followed by drought), despite increasingly frequent extreme weather events all over the world, despite a hard Brexit in place with all the knock-on effects of non-tariff barriers and labour shortages, despite empty supermarket shelves now being a common sight and millions of us cannot afford to by the sufficient safe, nutritious food.
The simple fact, surely, should have led to the National Food Strategy team asking the question about UK’s preparedness for future shortages and scarcities.
Sure, we don’t see many skeletal people on our streets (though there are, sadly, some). Accessing enough calories isn’t today’s big issue, it’s access to nutrient-dense foods which will also provide us with the energy for healthy minds and bodies.
Literally millions of us are already facing a nutrient famine. Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, diet-related cancers, inattentive or lethargic children in the classroom among the symptoms of malnutrition.
note: Discussions in Parliament have included food security matters, but only in the most general of terms; see, for example, these two House of Commons Library papers (a) Insight paper of February 2021: Food security: What is it and how is it measured? and this December 2020 Briefing paper on the Agriculture Act 2020.
note: Although few think about what to do if and when there are food shortages and scarcities, we have done so over the last few years. See for example:
- A plan, devised by participants on our 2020 scenarios exercise, about how the UK could be better prepared for future food system shocks: One scenario: Buffer contingency stocks.
- This proved a remarkable scenarios exercise. The resulting paper illuminates the practicalities we could cost and put in place a rotating buffer stock system of nutrient dense food — and the substantial benefits such implementation would accrue to all of us, individually, communally and to society at large.
- Our recent review of the predictions we made in 2017. How smart were they?
In summary, not that smart, even though our predictions were scary then. We were out by some 10-15 years . . .
- Preparedness for food supply shortages and scarcities. National Preparedness Commission article (July 2021)
(An unabridged version is here.)
In addition, this function space map provides useful pointers as to how seemingly distant events (e.g. a shortage of truck drivers, non-tariff barriers at ports, an energy outage or one of the three scenarios outlined here) can have significant ripple effects across the whole system:
And this table from this brief report The state we’re in: Risks to UK food supplies, catalogues why we should be so concerned.
It lists the current challenges and the risks they present, plus the considerable external global threats to UK food supplies: