Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big ag the only option to stop hunger

Jay Rayner in the Guardian (UK): …Having spent the past month travelling across Britain investigating the sustainability of our food supply for a new TV show, it's clear to me that we risk replacing a culture of a cheap and plentiful present with one of hyper-expense and scarcity in just a few years' time.

We need to look seriously at how we produce our food and how we eat it. Our self-sufficiency has dropped in the past decade from north of 70% to around 60%, according to official figures. Many experts think it may actually be nearer to just 50%. We import 60% of our vegetables. If this drift continues, we will be left exposed to the sort of events that triggered the riots in Africa. We need to make difficult decisions which a lot of people who regard themselves as serious foodies may find deeply unappetising. And we need to make them fast.

…Cost is key. In the early 90s, we spent roughly 20% of our wages on our shopping bill. Today, it's nearer 10%, even allowing for recent inflation, and we assume these low prices to be a right. The result is margins for our farmers that are so tight many are giving up. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the dairy industry which is not only shedding farmers every week, but losing its future workforce too, as the traditions of family succession dwindle. Farmers' kids don't want to go into the business and their parents don't want them too, either. A country suited to dairy farming is no longer self-sufficient in milk. We're importing the stuff.

…If we are to survive the coming food security storm, we will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming. We need to abandon the mythologies around agriculture, which take the wholesome marketing of high-end food brands at face value – farmer in smock, ear of corn, happy pig – and recognise that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably….

Between Hoylandswaine and Silkstone, this resembles a work by Jackson Pollock, or perhaps one of Paul Nash's stark landscapes of the Western Front in the First World War. Shot by Chris Yeates, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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