1 INTRODUCTION: THE GLOBAL
Background to the inquiry
1. Every day the shelves of UK supermarkets are full
of a remarkable array of foods from around the world. Restaurants
in the UK offer every type of cuisine. The availability of great
food brands such as Heinz, Cadbury, and Kellogg is taken as read.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the thought of food shortages
or supply chain disruptions hardly enters into people's minds.
The notion of any threat to the security of the UK's food supplies
is, to the majority of its citizens, not so much alien as unthinkable.
However, food supplies have been restricted in the UK within living
memorythe rationing introduced during the Second World
War continued in limited form until 1954. There were also widespread
shortages of sugar in the early 1970s.
2. Until very recently, the UK Government seemed
to take the availability of food largely for granted, too. Despite
having the word "food" in its title, the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) regarded climate
change as its principal priority. Melanie Leech, the Director-General
of the Food and Drink Federation commented: "I think Defra
would recognise that in recent years it has not felt the need
to prioritise and focus on food issues."
She noted that the food industry "has been rather good at
delivering cheap, safe and nutritious food [
] to households"
and "DEFRA has let it get on with it".
3. There have always been risks to the secure supply
of food, but now these risks and the world's awareness of them
are changing. In the past year, the political profile of food
has soared. In November 2008, we asked the Secretary of State
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP,
about Defra's priorities following the loss of the majority of
its climate change responsibilities to the new Department for
Energy and Climate Change. After a momentary hesitation, he replied:
"We have got a particular priority now for food."
His answer reflects not simply a perceived need to refocus on
the main areas for which Defra retains responsibility, but a growing
awareness among Governments in developed countries that a food
system that has appeared to work well since the end of the Second
World War may not continue to do so unless it, and the issues
associated with it, receive urgent political attention.
4. In the light of the new interest in food policy,
our inquiry focused on the challenges involved in securing food
supplies up to 2050 and how Defra should respond to them. We concentrated
on the political aspects of securing food supplies. During 2008,
we held several informal meetings with experts to help us to refine
the inquiry's terms of reference. These terms of reference are
set out in Appendix 1. We launched the inquiry on 11 December
2008 with an open discussion at Borough Market in London. The
security of food supplies affects everyone and we were keen to
hear from not only the key players in the food and farming industries,
but members of the public who might not otherwise think of contributing
to a Select Committee inquiry. We received 79 written submissions.
We held eight oral evidence sessions, between January and May
2009, during which we heard from some of these contributors in
more detail. The Chairman attended the conference on "World
Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy",
held by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
in Rome in June 2008. The Committee visited Rothamsted Research,
the John Innes Centre, the Centre for Food Policy, and Syngenta's
Jealott's Hill International Research Centre. We also travelled
to Brasilia and Sao Paulo in Brazil. We are most grateful to all
who took part in, and assisted with, our inquiry.
5. As the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee,
we are responsible for overseeing the work of Defra. This means
that our primary focus is the UK food system. However, given that
the UK food system operates within the global system, there will
be times when our comments touch on the responsibilities of the
Department for International Development (Dfid).
6. We deliberately avoided the term "food security"
in the title of our inquiry, because it has different meanings
for different people. The nearest to a standard definition is
that given by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
in its 1996 World Food Summit Plan of Action: "Food security
exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic
access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary
needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."
However, for some, food security is a term primarily associated
with developing countries and for others it is synonymous with
self-sufficiency. In 2001, a glossary of terms issued to journalists
by the World Trade Organisation defined food security, somewhat
prejudicially, as a: "Concept which discourages opening the
domestic market to foreign agricultural products on the principle
that a country must be as self-sufficient as possible for its
basic dietary needs."
Defra's written evidence states that the Government's definition
of food security is "for people to have access at all times
to sufficient, safe, sustainable and nutritious food, at affordable
prices, so as to help ensure an active and healthy life."
We are broadly satisfied with this definition, although "fair
prices" as opposed to "affordable prices" would
encompass the idea that, not only should the consumer be able
to afford the food, but those who produced it should be able to
make a profit. Professor Robert Watson, Defra's Chief Scientific
Adviser, described the need to make food both affordable to consumers
and profitable to farmers as a "twin challenge" that
warranted further attention.
7. The subtitle of our inquiry is "the challenges
for the UK". Food and farming are devolved matters and thus
Defra's responsibility for food policy extends only to England.
However, we decided that to restrict our inquiry to England would
be to create a false distinction. The devolved Administrations
and Defra need to act in unison on food policy and provide a coherent
strategy for the UK as a whole, not least so that the UK can act
as a powerful example in Europe and on the wider world stage.
Although our recommendations are aimed principally at Defra, we
intend them to be relevant to policymakers in the devolved Administrations,
8. The reason for the sudden interest in food on
the part of Governments across the world is clear: global food
prices have increased substantially in recent years. According
to the World Bank, global wheat prices increased by 181% over
the three years up to February 2008, and overall global food prices
increased by 83% over the same period.
A report by Chatham House, Rising Food Prices: Drivers and
Implications for Development, published in April 2008, stated
that, although high prices were not uncommon in agricultural markets,
"the unusual feature of the current situation is that the
price spike applies to almost all major food and feed commodities,
rather than just a few of them".
It noted that the price of corn was at its highest level in 11
years, rice and soya their highest level in 34 years, and wheat
its highest level ever. All of this followed on from a period
between 1974 and 2005 when food prices fell in real terms.
9. Escalating food prices were blamed for violent
protests in Egypt, Haiti, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, and demonstrations
in Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia
Some countries, including Argentina, imposed export restrictions.
Rising food prices also affected people in the UK, albeit less
dramatically. A report for the Soil Association by the Centre
for Food Policy at City University noted that consumer prices
index data published in August 2008 showed food inflation to be
running at an annual rate of 13.7%. Prices for oils and fats rose
by 29% in the year to July 2008, meat by 16.3%, bread and cereals
by 15.9%, vegetables by 11.1% and fruit by 10.7%.
10. Professor Watson, Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser,
outlined six factors that contributed to the increase in food
- poor harvests, especially in
the US and Australia;
- the use of food crops for biofuels, especially
maize in the US, where one-third of last year's crop was used
- rising energy prices, which resulted in high
prices for fertilisers and fuel;
- changes in the amount and type of demand (for
example, demand from China for more meat);
- export bans; and
Chatham House's Rising Food Prices concluded
that "the jury is still out on whether recent food price
rises will be sustained or not."
More than a year later, it is still unclear how the situation
will develop in the long term. In May 2009, the BBC noted that
there was evidence of falling food prices in international commodity
markets, but that prices were still high compared with their pre-2007
levels. The FAO food
commodity price indices show that, with the exception of sugar,
the prices for all the main commodities it monitorsoils
and fats, dairy, cereals, and meatwere lower in May 2009
than in May 2008. The FAO food price indices also show that, overall,
food prices have been lower in the first four months of 2009 than
they were the previous year. However, they also show that prices
are still considerably higher than in 2005 and 2006.
11. In late October 2008, Sion Roberts, the Chief
Executive of English Farming and Food Partnerships, commented:
"Food price inflation is going to fall very fast, but higher
and more volatile food prices are here to stay and managing risk
within the food chain is going to remain a key priority."
Another report by Chatham House, The Feeding of the Nine
Billion: Global Food Security for the 21st Century, published
in January 2009, stated that "the potential impact of long-term
resource scarcity trends, notably climate change, energy security,
and falling water availability" meant that in the medium
and longer term food prices were "poised to rise again"
and in sub-Saharan Africa, local food prices have increased even
as global commodities prices have fallen.
Predicting future trends in food prices is not within the scope
of our inquiry. What is clear, however, is that falling prices
must not be regarded as a sign that Governments can withdraw their
attention from food again. Addressing the consequences of the
increase in food prices over 2007 and 2008 is a challenge, but
it is by no means the whole challenge. The increases were symptomatic
of a much greater underlying problem.
The projections made at the FAO
food security conference
12. At the height of the price increases, in June
2008, the FAO held a conference in Rome on "World Food Security:
the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy". At the conference,
representatives from 181 countries agreed a declaration on world
food security. As well as including immediate measures to assist
the developing countries that had been most severely affected
by high food prices, the declaration pledged the signatories to
"embrace food security as a matter of permanent national
policy" and set out a number of medium and longer-term measures
that were intended to address concerns about future food supplies.
13. Two projections that were voiced at the conference
attracted particular attention and have become, as Hilary Benn
put it, "the accepted figures that everybody repeats".
First, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon,
announced that food production needed to increase by 50% by 2030
to meet rising demand. Then, the Director-General of the FAO,
Jacques Diouf, stated that food production needed to double by
2050 to feed a world population of 9 billion.
These are startling figures and it is easy to see why they have
quickly been adopted as the context for debates about the global
food system in the decades ahead. We used the figures as a framework
when developing the terms of reference for our inquiry. However,
as the inquiry progressed, we became more curious about the basis
for the projections and the extent to which they were a useful
reference for shaping policy.
14. Ban Ki-moon and Jacques Diouf clearly did not
pluck the figures out of thin air. The projections seem to have
been drawn principally from two reports: the International Food
Policy Research Institute's Future Scenarios for Agriculture:
Plausible Futures to 2030 and Key Trends in Agricultural Growth
(the source for the 50% by 2030 projection) and the FAO's
World Agriculture: Towards 2030/2050 (the source for the
doubling by 2050 projection).
Both reports were published in 2006. Future Scenarios for Agriculture
fed into the World Bank's World Development Report 2008: Agriculture
15. What is immediately apparent from the reports,
but easily forgotten when focusing on the sound bites, is the
number of assumptions and uncertainties involved in the projections.
In Agriculture for Development, the World Bank prefaced
its discussion of the figures by sounding a cautionary note: "Projections
of global future food supply and demand are always subject to
wide margins of error". It commented that the projections
made by both the FAO and the International Food Policy Research
Institute assumed no major changes in policies and added: "Projections
of the impact of climate change and energy prices are especially
difficult given current uncertainties".
16. When we asked the National Farmers Union (NFU)
and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) whether they
accepted the two projections as valid estimates of the sort of
increases in food production that would be needed, they were cautiously
supportive. Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, the President of the CLA,
I suppose we have not had any information to
the contrary. The Government's own Chief Scientist and Professor
Bob Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, are both saying
the same thing and the evidence from other sources and what you
read in the papers does seem to be fairly unanimous [
17. Natural England was more sceptical about the
projections. Echoing the World Bank's reservations, it commented
that the future is inherently uncertain, so the projections are
"only of some value".
It did acknowledge that "in the long-term global food production
is likely to need to increase", but when pressed on this
somewhat vague statement, Andrew Wood, Natural England's Executive
Director for Evidence and Policy, cited a number of reasons why
there were "some doubts" about the extent of the increase.
He commented: first that population growth projections were themselves
only projections, secondly that there was no way of proving whether
people in India and China would switch to increasingly western
patterns of food consumption, and thirdly that if the substantial
number of overweight and obese people in the world followed the
World Health Organisation's healthy eating guidelines, their food
consumption would fall.
18. Andrew Wood's qualifications are interesting
because they indicate that there is more than one way to respond
to the projections made at the FAO World Food Security conference.
The Soil Association, which described the conclusion that the
world needs to double food production by 2050 as "too narrowly
focused", made a similar point about diet: "Globally
more than sufficient calories are producedwhilst nearly
1 billion people are malnourished in the South; 2 billion are
clinically overweight in the North."
In a sense, the link is misleading: there is no simple connection
between reducing obesity in the northern hemisphere and addressing
the problem of malnourishment in the southern hemisphere, as Lord
Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association, agreed.
However, encouraging people to eat a balanced diet has a part
to play in ensuring that the world makes the best use of its resources.
19. Population growth is also capable of being influenced.
People tend to talk of doubling food production by 2050 to feed
a population of 9 billion as if a population of 9 billion were
inevitable. However, the UNthe source for the 9 billion
figuremakes it clear that this figure reflects assumptions
about increased life expectancy and "is contingent on ensuring
that fertility continues to decline in developing countries",
which itself is dependent on expanding access to family planning.
The UN notes that, if fertility were to remain constant at the
levels estimated for 2000 to 2005, the population of the less
developed regions of the world would increase by an additional
2.7 billion, taking the world's population to 11.7 billion by
2050. It is therefore
important that attention remains focused on limiting population
growth, as much as on increasing food production. A population
of 9 billion by 2050 is certainly not inevitable: without action,
the figure could be much greater; with it, it could even be lower.
20. Andrew Wood's comments touch on another drawback
of the projections: when talking about doubling food production
by 2050, it is easy to start thinking in terms of a doubling of
demand across the world, whereas, as his remarks about India and
China emphasise, what is actually being projected is a large increase
in demand for particular commodities, in certain places in the
world, and very little increase in demand in other places. The
UN's population projections further underline this point: the
population of less developed countries is projected to rise from
5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050, whereas the population
of more developed countries is expected to remain largely constant
at 1.2 billion. What
is required, in other words, is not simply a doubling of production
across the world, but an increase in the production of particular
commodities to meet demand in particular parts of the world.
21. Defra's written submission took the 2030 and
2050 projections at face value, unlike several other submissions,
such as that from the farming organisation FARM, which reminded
us of the "inherent dangers" of simply accepting these
in oral evidence, Hilary Benn was more sceptical. He described
the projections as "a guide to what we are seeking to do,"
but added "I do not think we should get hung up on the precise
figures". He commented that the projections made "certain
assumptions" and that "there are other things that you
could do to help deal with the problem", although he gave
the example of reducing post-harvest losses, rather than influencing
population growth or diet.
Post-harvest losses can be due to poor infrastructure, such as
transport systems, or to poor food storage. Reducing food waste
is also vital in this context. Defra noted that, in the UK, "consumers
throw away an estimated 30% of the food they buy, half of which
In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has
already begun the "Love Food, Hate Waste" campaign,
which aims to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste.
The issue is also about reducing waste in the food chain, for
example by making as much use of the carcase of an animal as possiblea
point that we made in our report on The English Pig Industry.
22. At the World Food Security Conference in Rome,
it was announced that there was a need to increase food production
by 50% by 2030 and double it by 2050. These figures are based
on assumptions about population growth and patterns of consumption.
It is important to bear in mind that they are projections rather
than targets. They are a useful way of focusing attention on food
production. However, they should also be used to draw attention
to population growth, diet, and waste at all stage of the food
chain, and the need for policy responses in these areas.
23. Even the most sceptical of our witnesses acknowledged
that food production would have to increase over the next 40 years
and we agree. However, more work is needed on future patterns
of consumption. Doubling production by 2050 may focus the minds
of policymakers, but, by itself, it is too broad a projection
on which to base a response. We recommend that the Foresight Project
on Global Food and Farming Futures, which is due to report in
October 2010, provide a clear and accessible breakdown of this
projection, encompassing where and at what rate the population
increases are likely to take place, and how demand is likely to
change. It should indicate the implications of these factors for
world production of different food commodities. Defra should determine
how it will monitor global food production and demand trends in
order further to refine the projections in the future.
24. Concerns about whether food production will
be able to keep pace with population growth are not new. The World
Bank commented that, at the time of its previous World Development
Report on agriculture, in 1982, "a big question [
was whether agriculture would be able to provide enough food for
the world's growing population".
However, from the perspective of 2007, it went on to state that
agriculture's performance since 1982 had been "impressive":
from 1980 to 2004, the GDP of agriculture expanded globally by
an average of 2% a year, whereas the world's population expanded
at a rate of 1.6% a year.
This does not, of course, mean that everyone in the world had
enough to eat, but this was because of a lack of access and affordability,
not a lack of production.
25. Professor John Beddington, the Government's Chief
Scientific Adviser, commented that global agricultural production
had climbed well above the rate of population growth in the past
four decades. He stated: "Global production has more than
doubled in the past 40 years, despite only an 8% increase in the
use of land for agriculture since the 1960s. Dramatic improvements
have been achieved in both developed and developing countries."
He illustrated his point with the following graph:
26. Since the availability of food has kept pace
with the growth in the world's population over the past 40 years,
it seems reasonable to ask what is different this time. Anastassios
Haniotis, the Head of Unit for Agricultural Policy Analysis and
Perspectives at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural
Development, at the European Commission, commented:
Roughly whether we increase by 50% by 2030 or
100% by 2050 it implies an annual rate of growth in production
in the range of 1.5 to 1.6%. This is more or less what we have
done in the last 50 years but that does not imply that we have
to do it in the same way as happened in the past.
Growing awareness of the risks posed by climate change
and increasingly scarce resources mean that production cannot
continue to increase using the same approach as in the past. The
CLA commented: "the world faces an unprecedented double challenge
of meeting a huge growth in food demand whilst respecting far
higher environmental standards than in the 20th Century."
A report by the Centre for Food Policy at City University,
Towards a National Sustainable Food Security Policy, noted
that the "production increases of the last half century have
been achieved at considerable ecological cost and only with heavy
use of energy and oil inputs".
Such methods of production are not sustainable.
27. Rothamsted Research commented that "a better
and more widely accepted definition of what is meant by sustainability
when it comes to food production" could be helpful.
Dr Wayne Martindale referred to the Brundtland definition of sustainability,
which he characterised as "leaving resources to our next
generations in a fit state".
In 1987, the Brundtland Commission, otherwise known as the
World Commission on Environment and Development, produced what
is still one of the most widely accepted definitions of sustainable
development, describing it as "development that meets the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs".
Using the Brundtland definition makes it clear that any method
of food production that does have a negative impact on the ability
of future generations to secure their own food supplies is merely
creating the short-term illusion of security. Genuine food security
cannot exist without sustainability.
28. Producing food sustainably involves addressing
a number of environmental and resource challenges, which Chatham
House summarised as follows:
- the need radically to reduce
the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the food system;
- the need to reduce the end-to-end
dependency of the food chain on fossil fuels (given climate change
and expectations of higher energy costs in the decades ahead),
- the need to address the depletion of the natural
resources and ecosystem services on which food production depends
(for example, soil and water).
We will explore these challenges in more detail later,
but it is worth noting at this point that climate change means
that it will be necessary to address them in a world that is incrementally
changingin terms of average temperatures and the frequency
of extreme weather events. This adds another layer of complexity
to what is already a huge task.
29. Some of the submissions equated sustainability
with what Leicestershire Food Links described as "a more
] way of farming".
The John Innes Centre, however, favoured a range of approaches:
"An approach based on greater integration of standard, organic
and alternative types of farming should result in more sustainable
The Soil Association argued strongly for the sustainability of
organic farming, but Monty Don, the Soil Association's President,
readily acknowledged that other farming methods might also have
something to offer:
Quite frankly, in times of crisis you do what
is best and if there are some people doing superb things that
are not organic, then let them get on with it. All we can do is
to try and inform and encourage people to use organics to its
maximum potential; that is key.
We agree that sustainability is not the preserve
of any one method of farming.
30. The Soil Association commented that a "healthier,
low-carbon diet [
] could be delivered through a wholesale
shift to organic farming and in sufficient quantities to feed
the UK population according to independent research by the University
The research in question is a report by the Centre for Agricultural
Strategy at the University of Reading, entitled England and
Wales under organic agriculture: how much food could be produced?.
This report is described as "a first step at looking at what
food we would produce if England and Wales switched to organic
scenario it envisages involves chicken, egg and pork production
falling to roughly a quarter of current levels, and more wheat
and barley being used for human consumption.
There is little discussion of how an all-organic system would
respond to a serious pest or disease outbreak. When we put this
point to the Soil Association, they told us that an organic system
would involve less risk of crop failure because it is "a
We do not believe that there should be a wholesale shift to organic
farming, not least because, as the Soil Association acknowledged,
non-organic techniques also have something to offer when addressing
the challenge of securing food supplies sustainably. However,
organic farming clearly has a role to play, particularly, as Defra
noted, in reducing reliance on inputs and making good use of natural
resources. The UK's
organic expertise could also be useful in securing food supplies
in developing countries.
31. Producing sufficient food is only part of
the challenge the world faces, the implications of the way in
which it is produced are equally important. The only acceptable
form of food production is that which meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their needs. Applying this principle to food production requires
a fundamental shift in thinking and an open-minded approach to
embracing solutions from across the spectrum of production methods.
1 Q 244 [Ms Leech] Back
As above. Back
Oral evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Committee on 5 November 2008, HC (2007-08) 1178-I, Q 1 Back
Ev 210 Back
Q 534 Back
World Bank press release, "Rising Food Prices Threaten Poverty
Reduction", 9 April 2008. Back
Alex Evans for Chatham House, Rising Food Prices: Drivers and
Implications for Development, April 2008, p 2 Back
"Food price rises threaten global security-UN", The
Guardian, 9 April 2008 Back
David Barling, Rosalind Sharpe, Tim Lang, Rethinking Britain's
Food Security: a research report for the Soil Association, November
2008, p 6 Back
Q 534 Back
Rising Food Prices, p 4 Back
"Food prices vary but crisis remains", BBC News Online,
15 May 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8052353.stm Back
"Food price inflation predicted to fall dramatically over
next two years", Farmers Weekly Interactive, 29 October
2008, www.fwi.co.uk Back
Alex Evans, The Feeding of the Nine Billion: Global Food Security
for the 21st Century, January 2009, p 6 Back
"Poor still hit by high food prices, say UN", Financial
Times , 19 March 2009 Back
For a list of the measures and the text of the declaration, please
see www.fao.org/foodclimate/hlc-home/en/ Back
Q 524 Back
The text of both these speeches is available on the FAO's website. Back
These were cited as the principal sources in e-mail correspondence
between the Committee and the Department for International Development.
The World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture and
Development, 2007, p 61 Back
Q 299 [Mr Aubrey-Fletcher] Back
Ev 144 Back
Q 344 Back
Ev 169 Back
Q 422 Back
United Nations Press Release, "World population will increase
by 2.5 billion by 2050", www.un.org Back
United Nations Press Release, "World population will increase
by 2.5 billion by 2050", www.un.org Back
Ev 374 Back
Qq 524-25 Back
Ev 211 Back
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee's First Report of
Session 2008-09, The English Pig Industry, HC 96 Back
Agriculture for Development, p 50 Back
Agriculture for Development, p 50 Back
Ev 21 Back
Q 478 Back
Ev 119 Back
David Barling, Rosalind Sharpe and Tim Lang, Towards a National
Sustainable Food Security Policy, November 2008, p 8 Back
Ev 61 Back
Ev 401 Back
Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment
and Development, March 1987. Available online at www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm
Ev 44 Back
Ev 372 Back
Ev 355 Back
Q 433 Back
Ev 169 Back
University of Reading, England and Wales under organic agriculture:
how much food could be produced?, October 2008, p 2 Back
England and Wales under organic agriculture, p 3 Back
Q 435 ff. Back
Ev 235 Back