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Food security – a question of independence

Bull on an English farm. Photo Snowmanradio at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

A nation must be able to feed itself. To do so needs both management and planning. Capitalism increasingly demonstrates it is capable of neither…

Both the Conservative and Labour parties seem to be in competition with each other over who can exacerbate the problem more with net zero and so-called “green” initiatives.

The question of food security was studiously avoided by parliamentary hopefuls, but it is of paramount concern to many people in Britain.

A research report from the House of Commons Library published in April underlined the reality of those concerns.

Titled Who is experiencing food insecurity in the UK? the report revealed that the number of people in “food insecure” households rose sharply last year. It stands at 7.2 million out of an estimated total of 28.2 million, compared to 4.7 million the year before.

The generally accepted definition of food security was established by the United Nations Committee on World Food Security. It is described as the condition where “…all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”    


Our own government says it subscribes to this definition, but almost inevitably qualifies this, in the familiar language of environmental compromise, “…in ways that the planet can sustain into the future”.

According to the UN, food security comprises four distinct elements, all of which must be present: availability; access; utilisation and stability. In other words, people should be able to buy nutritious and healthy food at an affordable price, and should have the means to store and cook it.

But food security is compromised around the world because of poverty – here in Britain too. Quality food can be expensive. Manufacturers and supermarkets all too often substitute cheaper, processed and less nutritious fare.

Governments and food campaigners have launched initiatives which purport to enlighten the public about the benefits of quality food, especially when talking about obesity. Exhortations to patronise local bakeries, cheese shops, delicatessens and so on are irrelevant for many people. The hard truth is that if you can’t afford it, you’ll make do with something that costs less.

The Trussel Trust, a charity with the most involvement in British food banks, has reported a sharp increase in their usage. Emergency food parcel distribution in the period between April and September 2023 was up by 16 per cent over the previous year. Alarmingly, around 320,000 people needed to use a food bank for the first time during that period.


The government can wring its hands about the cost of living, and claim it’s out of their control. But their constant assault on workers’ buying power – through inflation and debt – are major factors in people’s reduced means to buy good food.

Other facets of government policy contribute directly to food insecurity. The most significant is the seemingly relentless drive to take valuable agricultural land out of production.

In July 2023 the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England reported that “…14,500 hectares of such land, which could grow at least 250,000 tonnes of vegetables a year based on typical yields, has been permanently lost to development every year since 2010. Enough to feed the combined populations of Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester their five a day”.

But it’s not only housing causing a loss of productive farmland. The proliferation of large-scale solar farms across the rural landscape is a rapidly growing threat. Minette Batters, former president of the National Farmers Union, has warned about the uncertain future for dairy and arable farming while wealthy investors are buying up large chunks of the countryside.

‘It is governmental policy, here and around the world, which poses the real threat to food security…’

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in May she said, “We are a country up for sale. We are selling off land to people who don’t pay their taxes here. It does have to change.” She cited evidence of tenant farmers evicted to make way for large scale solar schemes. Returns for the land owner are lucrative “…what’s not to like [for them]? For everybody else, there’s a huge amount not to like. This is the trouble with a solar farm. There will be one beneficiary.”

The inevitable consequence of such policies is the rapid growth of imported food. Supply can be unreliable, subject to international markets. And imports are often grown or reared to standards inferior to those applied by British farmers.

Politicians and commentators tend to say that the major issues threatening food security are war, climate change and population growth. Clearly, war and the threat of war have a massive impact. What is happening in Palestine is only the most recent of many situations demonstrating that malnutrition and starvation are a direct consequence of conflict.


The issue of climate change is less clear cut. Uncritically citing that as the major cause of food insecurity is facile. Its impact is often wrapped up with other factors such as internal conflict, and is not always bad for food production.

Increased risk of flooding is a frequently cited aspect of climate change. Humans have grown crops for 12,000 years – and for a great part of that time, water has been managed. Food grows where there is water – flooding brings fertility.

Partly in response to climate change in the Sahara, ancient Egypt developed irrigation in the Nile valley over 5,000 years ago – using the river’s annual floods. That system still feeds millions today.

And in Britain extensive land reclamation has created productive farmland. Vast areas have been drained and managed since Roman times, particularly since the seventeenth century. This includes the area around the Wash, the former tidal estuaries of the Humber and many other places.

Flooding is still a risk to low-lying farmland – the Vale of Evesham and the Somerset levels have experienced extensive flooding in recent years. But the real culprit – and one that can be changed – is the neglect of flood management and drainage.

The argument that population growth causes food insecurity is a familiar one – “we have too many people to feed”. That does not stand up to examination. The application of science and industry to food production has seen the capacity to produce food grow as population grows. It is governmental policy, here and around the world, which poses the real threat to food security.


But farmers are fighting back. Protests across Europe in many forms demand control of imports, prioritisation of local produce and cuts in food energy taxes. And farmers are pushing back against government policy in other parts of the world where small scale farming is significant, notably India and, most recently, Argentina.

The EU brands such protest as “far right” and worthy only of contempt. Farmers reciprocated in March by spraying manure and setting hay alight during an EU agricultural minsters’ meeting in Berlin.

The latest iteration of the EU Common Agricultural Policy, Farm to Fork, sounds benign, but is quite the opposite. It has resulted in free trade deals which lower agricultural regulations, reduce prices for farmers’ produce, and concentrate land in the hands of huge agribusiness corporations.

British government policy is no better. The National Farmers Union says that food production should be high on the agenda for the next government. Farmers took their tractors in convoy outside Parliament in March. Their slogan, “No farmers, no food, no future” echoes protests worldwide.

• This article is based on a CPBML online discussion meeting held in June 2024.