Step up or step out, Eustice

Posted: 11 March 2022 | | No comments yet

Professor Chris Elliott takes no pleasure in saying “I told you so”, after warning about the UK’s vulnerability when it comes to food security. But, out of the Ukraine crisis could come a reinvigorated food system…

Chris' CornerI have written many articles over the past few years, particularly for New Food, about the UK’s food security situation. I have argued for a complete rethink on how this is calculated and for Government policies to change radically.

I have not been alone in making these calls, but they have all fallen on deaf ears – we simply have not seen effective policy introduced to improve the UK’s food security. On the contrary, the UK is now, in my opinion, the most food insecure it has been since World War II.

Few really know or can start to comprehend the impact the invasion of Ukraine will have on the global food supply system. It has the largest area of arable land in Europe and produces enough food to feed more than half a billion people.

Due to the catastrophic situation unfolding, there are likely to be massive shortages of many staples such as wheat, barley and potatoes. The hardest hit regions of the world are expected to be in Africa, with the spectre of famine looming large in some regions.

The impact on food insecurity as a result of this war will probably last for several years, even if a resolution to the Russian invasion comes relatively quickly. At home (Ireland) we will see soaring costs of many food products and lack of availability of others. Sanctions on Russia must also be factored in too, in terms of the country’s huge exports of cereal crops, fish and oils. The country is also a major exporter of potash, phosphate and nitrogen-containing fertilisers. Please believe me when I say that these will become part of Russia’s ‘tools of war’ . The country not only carries a nuclear deterrent, but also the ability to drive many parts of the world into hunger. My anger at what Putin has done and what he could be responsible for is hard to describe.

It is time to reset our thinking. We need to make the UK much less vulnerable to such events in the future and actually have a national food strategy built on resilience and incorporating some of the well-made points found in the Dimbleby National Food Strategy.

I use this article to openly call upon George Eustice, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to step up or step out. There are so many positive things that could come out of the present adversity in terms of feeding the nation with wholesome, sustainable food. Like many things, the trigger for change is often brought about by crisis. This is one crisis that we should not waste.