Thursday, 9 October 2008

Why we need to produce more of our food locally

The Guardian yesterday had an interesting article which people can read here. It is about a report by the international affairs thinktank Chatham House about the future of food supply in the UK. Some of the key points are:

• UK consumers use food at a rate that represents six times more land and sea than is available to them.

• The equivalent of 20 Nile rivers move annually from developing to developed countries, but much of agriculture's use of water is unsustainable.

• Modern food production is energy-intensive and vulnerable to oil and gas price rises.

• Falling yields due to climate change will inflate food prices further.

• The rapid rise in world population will continue to push up demand.

• Emerging economies such as China and India are shifting to more meat and dairy products. This will cause greater pressure on food and feed prices, and exacerbate environmental and health problems.

This adds fuel to my argument that we need to produce more food locally and to do it in a way that is less envrionmentally damaging. And whilst I accept that, as so often happens with think tank reports, the language is "sexed up" to ensure it grabs public attention, the warnings on food supply are there for all to see.

Locally produced food requires less transport and storage. Local production however cannot provide all your food needs unless we are to make significant sacrifices from our diets which most people will not wish to make. We need to be realistic.

We can, however, cut down on some things which are much more damaging to produce. For example, I rarely use milk now. I have cut it out of tea and I am vegetarian through the week. It is interesting to note that as the standard of living in countries with large populations rise (such as China and India) demand for meat has soared. This produces more pressure on land and means some food supplies (basically grain) are diverted into producing high quality, protein (and often fat) rich foods. I understand it takes 10kg of grain to make 1kg of beef. This is hardly a good use of resources.

So getting an allotment and using your garden to grow even a small proportion of our food will made a big impact on the environment and give us a bit of security against international competition for the available food supplies. And it's also fun and healthy!

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