British food too cheap warns supply chain expert
24 March 2014 | By Olivia Midgley
THE continual drive to produce the cheap food that fuels supermarket competition is having a damaging effect on the environment and agricultural biodiversity, as well as the capacity of the land to continue to produce food sustainably.
Speaking about food poverty and the constant push to make food cheaper, Ralph Early, who is head of the food science and agri-food supply chain management at Harper Adams, warned the days of cheap food must draw to a close.
He said: “Some people believe that the simple solution to food poverty is to make food cheaper, which often means producing cheaper raw materials.
“But, if we are at all concerned with agricultural sustainability and the capacity of the land to feed us long into the future, we must ask ourselves whether food in Britain is actually too cheap.”
Mr Early said the duty of any government ‘includes the creation and management of national food policies that address the issue of food security for the nation’.
He added: “This duty is not always recognised by governments and even in Britain the existence of a coherent food policy is questionable.”
Mr Early believes the problem of food poverty is one of ‘food policy’.
He added: “Wealth is not normally distributed. It is positively skewed and, roughly speaking, 80 per cent of the wealth in society will be held by around 20 per cent of the population. So, even in the wealthiest of societies it is inevitable that some people will be poor, but food poverty is a concept that needs qualification.
“In Britain, food poverty is relative and not absolute, as some politicians would have us believe. The answer to food poverty does not lie in cheap food. It lies in economic policies that create jobs and distribute wealth fairly.”
Also of concern, Mr Early said, is that over the past 30 years British self-sufficiency has fallen from 78 per cent to 60 per cent as the UK has accessed ‘potentially insecure global food supply chains’, in search of cheaper food.
“Quite often this has resulted in badly paid workers in poor countries with agriculturally damaged resources of soil and water,” he added.
“The truth is that food is cheaper now than at any time in our history, but can this continue if we are to protect the land as the key source of food production that can benefit us now and also sustain future generations?”