Lack of UK policy on food security could be costly, warns charity

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/maxmihai
© iStock/maxmihai

Related tags: Climate change, Risk, Security, Food, Uk government

The UK government has been accused by an NGO of “playing Russian Roulette” with climate change as it downplayed the risks that global warming could have on food security.

The accusation came from the charity, the Food Ethics Council.

The influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body established which advises the UK Government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, also last year warned that domestic and international food production and trade could be severely affected should temperatures rise by two degrees by 2080.

“At present there is no co-ordinated national approach to ensure the resilience of the UK food system,”​ the CCC adaptation sub-committee concluded​.​ The experts said urgent policy intervention is required (over the next five years) in order to mitigate the risks and limit the impact of spikes in food prices.

Responding to the findings this month in its climate change risk assessment 2017 report​, the UK government disagreed. In fact, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) acknowledged that action is required in all the risk areas the committee identified – apart from food security.

Glass half full

“The resilience of food supply chains is regularly tested by severe weather and other events, and consistently performs well,”​ the response reads. “The [CCC] evidence report’s recommendation that new policy is needed to manage risks to UK food prices therefore does not align with the findings from our own research.”

The government said it “takes a more optimistic view of the levels of resilience that are achieved through functioning markets and diverse sources of supply”.

Climate change is well know to bring both risks and opportunities, but experts called on DEFRA to justify this wholly optimistic view. “If the independent [CCC] has put food security in its top six urgent risks, the UK government should heed that warning and take action, not just hope that everything will be ok,” ​said Dan Crossley, executive director at the Food Ethics Council.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said the reason for “distance over food security”​ is that the UK is in a tricky position: it’s negotiating to leave the place it gets most of that food – the EU.

Empty shelves?

Lang said he has been reliably informed that the default position of what the Treasury would like after Brexit is to slash subsidies and to let only the ‘efficient’ survive. “That’s risky for food security and the government does not want to be seen saying (or even thinking) that,”​ he explained.

A spokeswoman for the CCC reiterated that the UK needs to “do more than just respond to shocks as they arise. A more proactive strategy is needed​.” If not, she warned, the country could be left exposed to the impact of trade disruption as well as volatile food and feedstock prices.

The warning came as new data from the World Meteorological Organisation showed 2016 to be the hottest year on record. Underestimating the impacts of climate change on the food supply chain could be devastating, added FEC’s Crossley. “We can’t afford to play Russian Roulette with climate change.”

Related topics: Food waste, Sustainability, Policy

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