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Government»UK Needs to Plan for Food Shortage

»Friday, March 19,2010

Goverment needs to plan for potential food shortage, and produce more food at home.A "radical rethink" of the way the UK produces and consumes food is needed, environment secretary Hilary Benn warned today as the government published an assessment outlining the threats to the security of what we eat.

The assessment showed that future global food supplies could be threatened by the impacts of climate change on where crops can grow, increases in the incidence of animal diseases and water shortages.

It also issued a warning over the depletion of fish stocks around the world, as well as the impacts on the natural world of expansion of crops grown for fuels and a growing population eating more.

But with rising yields in cereals and uncropped land that can be brought into production, the UK can contribute to global food security, the assessment said.

Across the world, it has been estimated that production will have to rise by 70% by 2050 to feed a global population of 9 billion.

The government has committed almost £1bn to ensuring food security for poor countries and funding research into sustainable agriculture in the developing world, according to the study.

Benn said he wanted British farmers to produce as much as possible, but they needed to do so in such a way that took account of a changing climate and the need to tackle global warming emissions — to which agriculture is a significant contributor.

He said: "Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises. While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden.

"We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food," he said. "Globally we need to cut emissions and adapt to the changing climate that will alter what we can grow and where we can grow it. We must maintain the natural resources - soils, water, and biodiversity - on which food production depends. And we need to tackle diet-related ill health that already costs the NHS and the wider economy billions of pounds each year."

Today's assessment is published alongside an update on last year's Food Matters report from the Cabinet Office on rising food prices, the problems of unhealthy eating and the environmental impacts of what we eat.

The environment department said a number of steps had been taken including a voluntary scheme for restaurants to put calorie counts on their meals and £10m for anaerobic digestion projects to turn waste into energy.

Benn has held talks with industry on how to boost production and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, according to the update.

Further action needs to be taken on areas such as reducing waste from food, which costs each household an average of £420 a year in the UK, and even more — £610 — for families with children.

Eliminating food waste would cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking a fifth of the UK's cars off the roads, according to the environment department.

Ways to cut food waste could include replacing the "bogof" — buy one get one free — offers with half price offers, along with hints, tips and recipes to help consumers make the most of the cheap food.

Clear advice on best before dates and making sure a range of pack sizes is available could also help.

The government is also keen to cut packaging from food by 2020 to as little as is needed "to do the job" and to promote reuse and recycling.

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