Food Facts

Go to Future of Food Open Space page

This was the source material used for Bonnie and Duncan’s talk on food security at the Food Open Space Day on 10th October 09.

This link will take you to a clean printable google docs version:

Food Facts: key food security facts, Oct 09 (working draft).

The text below is identical but you can also edit it if you wish using the wiki password (Or contact


Food facts working draft

Main sources: BBC Future of our food documentary series (Aug/Sept 09); Farm for our Future BBC documentary (Feb 09); Inconvenient Truth about Food (Soil Association report 2008: )

OUR FOOD SECURITY (summary/intro)

Decline of UK food self-sufficiency over past-decade; UK is more and more reliant on imported food from global market… The vulnerability of both the UK and EU food and farming systems to the new fundamentals of Climate Change and scarcer, costlier oil is underplayed in current policy. There is little awareness of the lack of resilience within UK based food and farming especially in terms of sufficient, skilled labour and the supporting regional infrastructure that a healthier diet and ‘a low-carbon, more resource constrained future’ necessitates. In fact since supermarkets only stock 3 days worth of food – we are therefore “9 meals away from anarchy” – as we discovered during 2000 fuel crisis. What we are aiming for is food security:

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

                    United National Food & Agriculture Organisation 1996

However, there is no overall, future-proofed ‘Food Plan for Britain’ If we wait for the government it might be too little too late, if we are alone it won’t be enough. But if we get to grips with the issues and act together it may be enough, in time.


Decline of self-sufficiency in UK and reliance on imported food.

Food Security and the UK: An Evidence and analysis paper, Defra 2006

Two decades ago the UK imported 20% of its food, now it imports 40-50% of what it eats (this is about 80% in London). If we only look at indigenous type food – things we can grow here – we only import about 26%. But this figure is based on % of the value of goods, not their volume or calorific value. So we could be cheaply importing a large volume of high calorie value foodstuffs which, if their supply was disrupted, would leave us in a more vulnerable position that the figure initially suggests. In any case our production of even the food we can grow here is decreasing:

Agriculture in the UK, Defra 2007

We grow 60% of our veg and 10% of our fruit but the area put down to veg in the UK is down by nearly 25% since 1997. We are the largest net importer of food and drink products amongst the EU states. Although 68% of these imports come from other EU states (something Defra considers secure and stable) we also import massive amounts from across the world. In 2008 the UK imported £115m worth of fruit and veg from Kenya alone. 1.5m African agricultural jobs are dependent on supplying the UK UK buys 75% of its food from the four main supermarket chains – they control what we eat. Supermarkets stock – and people expect – e.g. strawberries and green beans all year round UK not 100% self-sufficient since before 1830. Is this necessary and indeed desirable? Defra has assumed that “because the UK is a developed economy we are able to access the food we need on the global market” and that for this reason (no poverty and subsistence agriculture) food security is not an issue in this rich Western country. However, this is unsustainable because of climate change and the price of oil are kicking in and changing things – more countries are affected simultaneously and prices are going up across the board as oil dwindles. Richard Heinberg: Food production could well collapse in poor countries but also in wealthy food exporting countries like the US, Canada, Australia. We need to change our food system very quickly if we want to avoid a global food calamity. Land: 18.5 m ha of utilisable agricultural land in UK; 17.5m ha currently farmed: 10 m ha available. Could we feed ourselves in the UK via organic farming? Soil Association says Yes but not without major changes to diet, farming practice and food distribution…. And not the same volume as we now consume… What about in Brixton? In urban environment. As Patrick Holden from Soil Association confirmed, we could produce approximately a maximum 30% of our own food if we used all available land in Brixton.



Oil price in 2008 – record high of $147 per barrel. Predictions are that it will rise to $200 a barrel over next two decades (Chatham House 2008) Colin Campbell: Despite searching the world for oil with all the modern technology available, we have been finding less for the last 40 years. In 1981 – turning point – world started using more oil than we found in the new fields, therefore eating into our inheritance. Jeremy Legett – 40% of world production comes from 500 or so giant (1/2 billion barrel) oil fields. Peak oil will hit by 2013 latest and it will not just be oil crisis but an oil/energy famine!

Colin Campbell – today the energy supplied by oil is equivalent to 22 billion slaves working round the clock!


95% of our food is oil dependent.

Richard Heinberg: The UK is a net food imported so is vulnerable as it relies on fossil fuels so as fossil fuels become more scarce the price will go up and the whole system will start to creek. Average grocery bills rose in the UK by £750 in 2008 Food inflation has been running at 13.7% since June 2008

Changes in farming + consumer patterns mean that rural food infrastructure has declined – 1000 greengrocers/butchers/bakers disappeared every year during 1990s + therefore increase in oil used in transport – food now travels 23% further than in it in the 1970s. In the last 50 years agriculture technology has tripled crop yields and overcome everything nature has thrown at us. But it all relies on abundant fossil fuels…


Food supply in the UK accounts for 1/5 of total energy use (not just oil). Conventional farming 5cal = 1 cal of produce Intensive agriculture needs 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food (Soil Association) Organic farming typically uses 26% less energy to produce the same amount of food as non-organic farming. (Soil Association)

The government’s own Sustainable Development Commission has endorsed organic farming as “the gold standard for sustainable farming”

Before tractors, farms would use 2 horses, now farm vehicles are 400 horse power – the energy of 400 horses. – but NB higher yields + cheaper in terms of labour…

Example – the energy components that go into making a garage sandwich? Bread: the cereal –sown + grown using diesel run tractors; Chemical fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, all made from oil. Chemical fertilisers for nutrition, mainly made from natural gas. Harvested and dried using big electric heaters. Transported by road long distances for industrial processing. Ham filling – pigs, which are energy hungry and can eat nearly a tonne of grain. Salad filling – shipped or flown in or grown in a heated greenhouse. Ingredients then cooked/cooled/both and driven mile after mile in a refrigerated lorry until they made into a sandwich dripping in oil! Kept in refrigerator in garage shop. Plastic packaging –also made from oil – then to be disposed of…. The largest % of our individual carbon footprints (30%) comes from our food – shouldn’t food have simple carbon labelling.


69% of pesticides and 63% of primary energy used in the UK for agriculture were imported in 2005 95% of all food grown in the UK is totally reliant on fertiliser. They contain three plant nutrients – nitrate, phosphate and potash. GM crops are as dependent on fossil fuels as non GM.

In 2006 the import figure for fertiliser was 37%, up from around 10% in the 1970s. These imports come from Russia, Norway, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Ukraine and Belarus

1 tonne of oil to make 1 tonne of nitrogen fertiliser + 108 tonnes of water – in the process giving off over 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gasses


Conventional agriculture is seriously affecting quality of soil Soil erosion and degradation caused by conventional agriculture means that half of world’s current arable land will be “unusable” by 2050: UN Environment Programme 2002. Richard Heinberg – fertilisers are used to grow food on dead soil which works if we have fossil fuels. The living soil will need time to come back…. In Europe, this affects near 157 million hectares (16% of Europe, nearly 3 times the total surface of France).



Everyone in the UK uses around 3000 litres of foreign water per day Agriculture is the greatest user of water worldwide – accounting for 70% of drinkable water use Livestock farming accounts for 10% of water used annually

Global water stress in developing world but also in US, Australia and UK. In US, arable farmers use 1000 tons of water to produce each ton of grain. IPCC warns that globally the underground acquifers supporting major cereal-producing areas are under stress. Within 15 years water shortages could reduce global food production by more than the entire annual US grain crop.

India’s water table dropping by 1m per annum.


Summer rainfall predicted to decline by up to 50% in the south and east of England by 2080 UK needs to become far more water efficient Embedded water in UK food: 150g beef burger ‘containts’ 2,400 litres of embedded water 12% of UK’s fruit and veg imports are from Africa Every African green bean we import uses 4 litres of ‘virtual water’ from Africa



UK fish imports up 50% in last ten years Grimsby fishing fleet used to catch 200,000 tonnes a year from UK waters. Now handles only 25,000 tonnes – and this is largely foreign caught fish. The UK lands 15 times less fish than in 1920 More than 80% of UK fish species are under threat UK seafood market worth £5.5bn per annum A third of fish taken from the sea is turned into animal feed or fed to farmed fish General

UN reports that since 1900 about 75% of genetic diversity of domestic agricultural crops and livestock has already been lost. E.g. between 1963-2003 UK native plant species declined by 28%. “When natural diversity is lost, so is irreplaceable genetic material…the result of 3,000 million years of natural evolution.”


Globally, agriculture is responsible for between 17 – 32% of the world’s total greenhouse gases. Cows and cattle responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions

UK Government has set a target for 80% cuts in UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – including the main gases from farming, nitrous oxide and methane. This means major changes for UK food and farming, which contribute at least 18% of the UK’s total GG emissions. Only 13% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of CO2 – the majority of farming’s 9% contribution to total UK emissions is made up of nitrous oxide, and also some methane. Globally the production and use of artificial fertilisers are the largest single source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Emissions from the manufacture and delivery of nitrogen fertilisers (used in non-organic farming alone account for 14% of total green house gas emissions from agriculture and 1.1% of the UK’s total gas emissions


Average annual temps could rise across the UK by 2-3.5 degrees or more by the 2080s — the unprecedented heat wave that affected Europe in 2000 made crop yields fall by 25-30% across France and Italy (so European trade is also insecure) Sea levels are predicted to rise between 26-86cm above the current level in south-east England by the 2080s 57% of Grade 1 farmland is below sea-level and will be at increased risk of flooding, especially in East Anglia and the Fens, which hold 37% of England’s acreage for outdoor grown veg. Domestic self-sufficiency is not secure!

BIOFUELS – the answer?

UK biofuel crops produced 60m litres of fuel (156,000 Ford Focus tanks) Over 1bn litres of biofuels were used in the UK last year Oil seed rape is the most productive feed in the UK climate. At Britain’s current rate of oil use a 4 acre field of oil seed rape would be used up in 1/3 of a second!


Estimates suggest global food production needs to double by 2050 to feed an estimated 9bn people (6.7bn now)

UK population has risen by 10m in last 40 years but unlikely to rise to more than 71m by 2031.


Global health”’

Globally 1bn are obese and 1bn go to bed hungry (hungry total has risen from 100m in just five years)

Although world actually produces more than enough food for everyone on the planet currently

One third of the world’s grain currently goes on feeding livestock; and significant amounts have been going on running cars rather than even feeding animals or people

A third of heart disease and a quarter of all cancers are thought to be diet-related.

UK health

In UK half of us are overweight and morbid obesity rate has doubled in last ten years

Government predicts that 40% of Britons will be obese by 2025. 70% of girls and 55% of boys will be overweight or obese by 2050.

Food related ill health costs the NHS an estimated £7.7bn in 2007 – 9% of its total budget

UK diet

UK carnivores eat an average of 70kg of meat per annnum (17kg is beef) UK average fruit and veg consumption is 2kg per week (3.7 portions per person per day) UK average sugar consumption = 6.5kg of sugar per year UK average consumption = 2kg of salt in processed food per annum

On average British eat about half the fruit and vegetables they should (people on lowest incomes statistically likely to eat the least)

To achieve our fairshare of the world’s biocapacity in London (1,210,00gha or 0.16gha per capita) we would all have to consume 70% less meat, eat more than 40% local, seasonal, unprocessed food and cut our waste by one tonne a year.

And if we all went organic?

25% less barley 30% less wheat 40% less cereal overall (we would be 65% self-sufficient at current consumption levels) 30% less milk (we would be 60% self-sufficient compared to current 90% at existing consumption levels) 55% more sheep meat – totally self-sufficient 70% less pig and poultry – but could expand onti organic grasslands 27% fewer eggs (65% self-sufficient rather than current 90% at existing consumption levels) Could be increased by domestic production 68% more beef – but not advisable as would exceed domestic demand even @ current level We would produce equivalent amounts of peas/beans, potaotes and other field-scale and protected veg No land used for oilseed rape or sugar beet Would use mixed, old varieties of grains with long stems (for thatching). More focus on barley and wheat than oats

Lower yields of certain things will require intelligent use of land and choice of crops, a change in the ratio of commodities produced locally, a change in diets (lower on meat) and a limit on over-consumption (reduction of waste) We would use a more rotational approach using more internally derived inputs On farm energy may rise but overall energy demands of organic are likely to be lower The development of new organic management practices and technologies could improve yields and the sector deserves investment


In 1900, 40% of the population was involved in farming, now less than 1% of the UK population work in farming. The average age of a farmer is Britain today is 56 and there are only 150,000 of them left… Cuba needed to deploy 15-24% of its population after collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent cut in imports of agrochemicals and oil.

70% higher farm employment is needed; this would result in 25% less unemployment in the UK. Richard Heinberg: Democratic trends of the early C21 is going to be re-ruralisation. The proportion of people involved in food production will increase. Think back to WW2, 40% of fruit and veg was being produced from front yards and vacant lots. We will need a lot more full time farmers. Experts suggest that UK would need to divert 20% of the population (rather than the 1% currently employed) to produce the required amount of home-grown food under the coming constraints of climate change and peak oil. A vegetable garden with an experience gardener can produce up to five times more food per meter squared than a large industrial farm.

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