Feeding the world, food security and GM. Abstract.

Feeding the World
Are GM Crops fit for Purpose? If not, then what?
12th November 2008
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London

Feeding the world, food security and GM
Dr Charlie Clutterbuck, City University, London, UK


The main ingredients for the sustainable meal, that is needed to feed the world properly, are land, labour and capital. These largely determine what is grown where and why.

“Properly” means dealing with what the WHO calls the “Double Burden” – where about a billion people go hungry while a similar number are overweight. The two are linked by the overall drive for “cheap food”.

“Food is not a commodity like others,” Bill Clinton said on World Food Day. “We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.”

While he was probably referring to developing nations, he may be interested to know that the UK also needs to “feed themselves”. We used to talk of “food security” – having enough food to look after ourselves, as an African problem. Now it applies also to the UK.

 We have about 3 days supply of food in the country at any one time. If the lines of logistics fail for any reason, we are about “9 meals from anarchy”. The recent Cabinet Office Report “Food Matters” is a first attempt to address this issue.

While the definition of “sustainable development is about balancing “environmental, social and economic concerns”, for “sustainable food” (that which is healthier for people & the planet”), I prefer to talk of the battle between land, labour and capital.

We need a new mix of land, labour and capital, where we make better use of our land, where we pay people decent rates for working it, and where the capital builds up on the land – rather than in the finance sectors of the City of London. This means more investment throughout the food chain.

At present, the driving force is increased “productivity” to produce cheap food for a market of only those who can afford to buy. We need a richer, more complex, mix of production to provide for a wider diversity of interests, but primarily for more local fruit and vegetable and grain production.



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