Summary and implications

On 10 August 2009, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn published the UK's first Food Security Assessment, which highlighted the implications of climate change on the future security of food supply. This document declared that the "UK will need to change the way food is produced and processed so that we continue to enjoy healthy, affordable food in the decades ahead".

The UK Food Security Assessment was published alongside:

  • "Food 2030", an online discussion site seeking the public's views on the future of our food system;
  • “Food Matters: One Year On”, which provides an update on progress on the 2008 Cabinet Office report into food production and consumption; and
  • draft indicators for the sustainability of the food system.

Mr Benn said that there were three challenges that needed addressing:

  • how to meet the economic and environmental challenges of increased productivity in the food chain;
  • how to help people eat more healthily and ensure people have access to safe, affordable food; and
  • how to ensure that the way food is produced today does not damage natural resources. Clearly this overview will focus on the first and last of these.

UK food security

The key message of the report was that the food supply was currently secure but population growth and climate change could have an impact on this leading to a number of challenges. The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 which according to the report will require a 70 percent rise in food production to prevent widespread hunger.

Of particular note are the effects of climate which will affect what food can be grown and where and how it is grown. Additionally the role agriculture plays in greenhouse gas emissions needs to be addressed. Agriculture accounts for around 7 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and globally this proportion rises to 14 percent. This rises to 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions if you take into account deforestation (largely driven by the conversion of forest to agricultural land).

One comment that has provoked controversy is the cautious support for GM technology and its role in raising crop productivity. Mr Benn was however keen to note that GM technology needs further investigation.

The assessment additionally notes the availability and effective use of water to produce food and avoid the depletion of fish stocks.

Online consultation

Producers, supermarkets and consumers have been invited to go online and suggest how a secure food system should look in 2030. Some of the feedback received will be worked into a food strategy for the future consultation document which will be published later in the year.

The consultation is looking for feedback on nine key issues which are entitled:

  • A thriving food economy
  • Access and affordability
  • Climate change
  • Diet-related chronic disease
  • Food-borne illness
  • Living within environmental means
  • Research and innovation
  • Sustainable farming
  • Waste

The forum will stay open until 16 October 2009.