The StirrerThe Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond



The West Midlands is close to some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain, but week by week more and more of it is gobbled up by executive housing estates and out of town malls. A mistake that Barbara Panvel reckons we could all end up paying for.

Why would it matter if food producers continue to go out of business and fertile land is lost? After all, as some Labour politicians point out, the country's agricultural sector generates a mere 0.5% of our Gross Domestic Product. They also add, reassuringly, that ‘in 1939 farming recovered from depression and kept the country safe from starvation, it could of course do it again', apparently forgetting that at that time there was a big rural/farming population and there was land and skilled people. That will no longer be the case.

Henry Fell, a Lincolnshire farmer, has worked valiantly with the Commercial Farmers Group, a think-tank of farmers, academics, and agricultural business operators, to set out the importance of maintaining and increasing the production of food in this country.

He gives four reasons for being so concerned about the issue of food security:

First because the current national perception that the world is full of cheap food is just not true and carries great risk for the future of our country.

Second - because it saddens me to see our industry and countryside being denigrated and ruined. Much of our beautiful countryside would deteriorate as it did in the 1930s and would do so again. The set-aside policy is not creating beauty and environmental care - set-aside fields are growing a mass of ragwort, thistles, nettles, bracken and brambles.

Third - because we are losing land and people with skills, investment, and the industries who have served them.

Finally - we are buying from other countries, many of which have animal and human health and environmental regulations far less stringent than ours. And we import food from them on the back of tax free aviation fuel. Where on earth is the logic of all that?!

He quotes from a recent document by the Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities Group (UK) showing the threats which could disrupt the supply of imported food supply:

  1. terrorist activities
  2. disease outbreaks
  3. extreme weather events
  4. rapid currency fluctuations
  5. regional political crises.

To these he adds expanding populations, oil shortages, freight rates doubling and trebling, climate change, the possibility of rising sea levels, famine and deprivation especially in Africa, fuelling migration and war. He has now focussed on the threat of growing levels of water shortage in most countries. Wheat prices rose to a 10-year high six days ago as a worsening drought in a leading producer, Australia, increased the chances that the country's crop would be cut by more than half. This is no isolated problem: most food producing countries are experiencing a decline in water supply and global food reserves are low.

Henry asks if it is sensible to ignore these threats, to convert productive land into theme parks and base policy on short-term thinking. He sees the prevailing attitude in the UK during the last 20 years that “the world is full of cheap food, what on earth on we bothering about?” as a dangerous delusion, taking serious risks with our future security.

Many farmers are calling for public and political support for policies which will reverse the last ten years' reduction of self-sufficiency in indigenous foods from 87% to 70%, increasing our levels of food security, producing as much food as we can for our own markets and retaining fertile land and the skills needed to work it.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

©2006 The Stirrer