Warning over Global Food Security

UK - Global food supplies are set to become less secure and prices more volatile. This was the prediction from UK Meat and Livestock Commission Chairman Peter Barr as he opened the organisation's annual Outlook Conference on Tuesday.
calendar icon 30 January 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

"I predict we will see global protein shortages within our own lifetime - and I'm not just referring to meat when I say this."
MLC Chairman Peter Barr

The event, held in London, attracted delegates from across the meat and livestock industry.

Mr Barr said: "I predict we will see global protein shortages within our own lifetime - and I'm not just referring to meat when I say this."

He said that the livestock sector had been rocked by the "economic ravages of disease outbreaks, undergoing fundamental reform as a result of changes to the CAP, facing intense global competition, needing to respond to increasing environmental challenges and to cap it all, the majority not making any money whatsoever".

"There is a finite availability of agricultural land. And with population growth there is increased competition for land between urban development and the production of food, animal feed, and now biofuels.

"On top of this there are the pressures caused by short-term crises as a result of disease, droughts and floods and the longer-term impacts of climate change all of which destabilise world trade.

"Food security has not been a fashionable topic. But, it is one I have been raising for a number of years, and it is now rapidly rising up the agenda.

"There is certainly a good deal of food for thought for policy makers around the world.

"Consumers too may have to re-evaluate their stance on some critical issues such as GM solutions and intensive production methods.

"I am, therefore, pleased to see the Cabinet Office strategy unit is working on a special project looking at the need for a co-ordinated UK food policy."

Mr Barr added that of the UK is to continue producing its own food the industry had to get real about the equation between cost and return.

However, he said it was not just a question of prices but also a matter of improving business efficiency and competitiveness.

The keynote speech was given by British Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs minister Lord Rooker who set out the Government's vision for the industry.

He too acknowledged that the industry was recovering from a year of difficulties through disease outbreaks. However, he said that the way it had handled the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2007 compared to the outbreak in 2001 showed that the industry was working together and showing trust in the different sectors.

He said there is concern about the differences between farm gate prices and those charged at retail level. "But everybody in the supply chain needs to make a profit," he said.

Lord Rooker praised the work in research looking at ways to control the new threat from Bluetongue and he said that the UK was the only country that had ordered quantities of the Bluetongue 8 vaccine.

"I believe that vaccination will help when the disease comes back, as it inevitably will," Lord Rooker said.

Lord Rooker also called on the industry to work together with the government and called for not only sharing of costs, but also sharing of responsibility.

He also called for the industry to work together to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farm and he added that the government would reduce the red tape surrounding new technology needed to deal with greenhouse gases.

"It is something we ignore at out peril," he said.

The minister also called for more public sector procurement of British food.

"There is a market out there and not enough attention is being paid to it by our industry," he said.

The meeting also heard from Mike Coupe, Trading Director at supermarket chain J Sainsbury, who outlined how British meat fits into the JS business model and how JS sees red meat supply chains evolving in the future.

From the US, leading industry consultant John Nalivka spoke about trends and new developments in the US industry. He was followed by Tara Garnett, Coordinator of the Food Climate Research Network.

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