When cheap food becomes costly

My sister is sat working out which vegetables she will plant for the winter. Beds are now becoming clear and the prospect of rain next week brings an opportunity to sow root vegetables for winter harvest.

Having been in Somerset for the past seven weeks, it has not been hard to notice when vegetables from the garden have been part of the dinner, the taste is altogether better.

The omens for the winter in England are not good. The government is forecasting inflation at 13%. If newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express are to be believed energy costs are going to be twice or three times what they were last winter. Food prices are already rising.

There can be no controlling the international prices of oil or gas, but where the government could have been more pro-active is in looking at the price of food. In times past, the cost of food constituted around one-third of a family’s weekly budget, that proportion has fallen to around one-seventh. People have become used to cheap food. What response can be made when that cheap food suddenly becomes costly?

Oddly, the answer lies not in measures like the wartime Dig for Victory campaign. In 1939, Britain was importing two-thirds of its foodstuffs, some fifty-five million tons a year. The Dig for Victory campaign was a major propaganda success and was significant in reducing the need for imported food, dependency on imports fell from two-thirds to one-third.  However, that level of dependency was still comparable with the level of imports at the current time.

According to figures from the National Farmers Union, Britain currently produces around 64% of its food. The current situation is an improvement from the point where that figure had fallen to 61%. The NFU points out that in 1984 Britain was producing 78% of the food it needed, which is a proportion that exceeds the wartime levels.

The answer seems to lie in a coherent agricultural policy on the part of the government. Now the Common Agricultural Policy has gone (a good intentioned post-war measure that became an opportunity for massive exploitation), there is an opportunity to reorient policy to promote one of the chief objectives of the original 1957 CAP – food security.

The government could declare that self-sufficiency should be an aspiration, that, at the very least, there should be a return to the level of the 1980s. Of course, it would mean an increase in some prices, but they would be stabilised, and there would be a reduction in the availability of such products a sugar snap peas, but it would mean that there could be an elimination of uncertainty and fear.

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4 Responses to When cheap food becomes costly

  1. Dlonhamer says:

    Government should keep its nose out.
    The whole abattoir system has been distorted with beasts carted long distances to super factories.
    Fishing? Well leaving EU gained us what?
    Market gardens? Remember them.
    The only thing the gubment, any gubment, can do is f… it up with subsidies to mates, bending to special interests – covering land with solar panels- a swollen civil service to “regulate” it all, etc. etc.

  2. Paul Pope says:

    Living on the edge of the Fens, it’s difficult to understand why large areas of prime arable land has been given over to solar farms. Surely it’s a project ideally suited to urban brownfield sites, or built into the roofs of some of the huge warehouses springing up everywhere.

    • Ian says:

      I assume there is more money in the panels than the grain?
      Panels are ugly and are much more appropriate in an industrial context

      Hopefully, the trend will be reversed and the need for food security will be taken seriously

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