Graham Wroe: Is this the solution to the world food crisis?

Last week the Government announced its new food strategy but was immediately criticised by its advisor, Henry Dimbleby, for omitting most of his suggestions.

By Graham Wroe
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 12:31 pm
George Monbiot.
George Monbiot.

“It’s not a strategy,” said the founder of the Leon food chain. “It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done.”

Dimbleby had proposed a significant expansion to free school meals, greater environment and welfare standards in farming, taxing sugar and salt, a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption and much more.

Instead, the few specific policies chosen by the government include an increase in domestic tomato production, and making it easier for deer stalkers to sell wild venison!

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But why do we need a new food strategy?

The dawn of the £2 litre of petrol has shocked the nation. This is impacting food prices as everything needs to be transported.

As the war continues in Ukraine we are missing the exports that Ukraine usually provides such as wheat, sunflower oil and fertiliser. Basic economics teaches us that such shortages lead to price increases.

But it is not just the war that has decreased the global supply of food. Due to the over-heating climate, heatwaves and floods have been damaging crops all around the world.

Severe drought In Canada last year prompted a 38% drop in the country's wheat production. In France, the heatwave has damaged wheat production and in the Central Plains of the USA, it has led some growers to write off parched hard red winter wheat, used by millers and bakers for bread flour.

Harvests are underway in top producer Kansas, but the output is expected to fall “well below” the five-year average.

Blistering heat scorched wheat fields in the world’s second-biggest grower, India, damping expectations for exports to alleviate a global shortage.

March temperatures soared to the highest ever for the month in records going back to 1901, parching the crop during a crucial period. Yields are predicted to slump 10% to 50% this season.

Policymakers at all levels of government should be concerned about this and be working on how we can increase our food production.

As a country, we import roughly half the food we eat. It is desperately foolish to continue to rely on these imports.

During the second world war “Dig for Victory” posters encouraged people with access to land to use it to grow crops.

So whether you’ve got a balcony big enough for a window box or a huge garden currently used for lawn and flowers, why not consider what you can grow to eat? There is help available from groups like Regather if you don’t know where to start. Government should be promoting food growing today.

But this won’t be enough to solve the food crisis. To ensure we all have enough to eat in the future we need to reduce our consumption of meat.

Currently, 85% of farmed UK land is used to either grow food for livestock or to rear meat. We could feed ourselves with a much smaller proportion of this land if we reduced the meat in our diet.

This would enable us to rewild much of the countryside, providing a chance for nature and biodiversity to recover in what is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

George Monbiot recently launched his excellent new book, Regenesis. I am looking forward to hearing him speak about it at the Festival of Debate on 23rd June.

He tweeted “The government commissioned an excellent thinker, HenryDimbleby, to write an excellent Food Strategy.

Then, clearly in response to corporate lobbying, it systematically junked his proposals. Yet again, it has wasted everyone's time and done nothing to address our urgent crises.”

George believes he has discovered the solution to the food crisis. He wants us to eat PFCA, which stands for Precision Fermentation and Cellular Agriculture. This may be the first time you’ve heard of this but I think we will be hearing a lot more of it in the future.

Using renewable energy, microbial protein production can be vastly more efficient than current agricultural methods and does not involve killing animals.

George believes that it could produce 5 times more soya beans per hectare than plants and up to ten times in better conditions.

Microbial proteins are produced by micro-organisms via fermentation. Precision fermentation allows these micro-organisms to be programmed to produce complex organic molecules such as proteins, with cellular agriculture permitting the production of specific animal proteins.

A study published in Nature found that, if only 20% of beef production was displaced by microbial protein, it would slash annual deforestation and related carbon dioxide emissions by half, while also lowering methane emissions.

If half of the beef production were replaced, this would cut deforestation by 82%. But the study only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

What does it taste like? I gather just like meat, but I am yet to experience it. I’m certainly willing to give it a try!

Boris Johnson and his cabinet should read “Regenesis” and come up with a new food strategy that acknowledges the crisis and offers real solutions.