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Trousers Brown: Blighty faces 'food security' threat

It's all about the energy, stupid

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Well, according to the Cabinet Office:

In... value terms, half of the food eaten in the UK is home-grown, nearly 70 per cent of the rest comes from elsewhere in the EU. Everything else, from tea to pineapples to prawns is sourced from across the world.

Or in other words, almost all - 85 per cent - of our food by price comes from the EU, one of the more stable and reliable trade zones on the planet and the one we are physically next to/in. As far as UK food prices go, "food security" would seem to be a matter of "EU security", and the EU is actually pretty secure. The pattern, funnily enough, is much the same in America, another of the world's great breadbaskets.

The truth of the matter is that food security and energy security are the same thing. One of the main reasons - apart from recent bad harvests - that even EU food is going up in price is that fuel is going up in price. In effect we don't buy corn, we buy the energy that farmed it and fertilised it, shipped it and processed it and preserved it. Food is energy, especially if you start using it for biofuel. But, certainly if you can believe WRAP, it isn't - from our point of view - very much energy. High-energy societies like the EU and USA don't struggle to feed themselves, and indeed can produce a big surplus.

So there's no new problem here, just the same one: Energy. Higher energy prices mean pain for rich Westerners. For poor Third-Worlders whose main way of consuming energy is eating food, high energy prices are a disaster. As the government are noting, the world's population is growing and parts of it (China) are getting a bit richer and want to eat higher-energy food like meat more often, too.

"If food production in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world reached its potential," notes Gordon Brown, "global food output would be much higher, far fewer people would go hungry and the threat of food-related political and social instability around the world would recede."

Well, duh. If Africa was industrialised and governed effectively* it could feed itself easily. But that would mean Africa starting to use energy - much of it fossil fuel - the way the West does now and China is beginning to. And that's to ignore the issue of water. The Cabinet Office says:

Cereal production needs to increase by 50 per cent and meat production 80 per cent between 2000 and 2030 to meet demand. But this will need to be achieved in a changing climate and in a world where natural resources - especially water - are becoming more scarce...

Water is energy too, however. If you have enough energy, you don't need to fret about water - you just desalinate seawater, of which the supply is more than adequate.

Forget about "food security" and "water poverty" and all the rest of it. The big issue for the human race in the coming decades is going to be energy. If we can vastly expand our supplies of energy, it will be at least possible for everyone to stay alive - maybe even stay alive and have a decent time the way we decadent Westerners do now. It doesn't matter whether you believe in carbon-related climate change or not; oil and coal simply aren't going to meet the demands of six billion well-fed, warm, literate, reasonably mobile people, certainly not for very long.

So - how do we vastly expand energy supplies, while largely doing without coal and oil?

That's what the government should be asking, rather than making up silly new tags like "food security" and moaning at us to keep our apples in the fridge. ®

*Not necessarily democratically or nicely, but effectively to some degree - like China.

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