Newsnight on food poverty

I think it’s the idea of people watching their loved-ones – particularly their children – going hungry that I find unbearable. Sketchy notes on Newsnight follow.

First a look at Haiti where riots have toppled a government, Delhi which has half the world’s food-poor, Cairo where bread is now subsidised and riots killed two and 15 million people are eligible for subsidised food, Beijing where the price of meat has doubled.

The US has released $millions of food aid but it’s not stretching as far these days.

In the last three years global food prices have nearly doubled, because demand growing faster than supply. Corn is up 34%, rice 50%, soya 84%, wheat 130%.

Biofuels, high price of oil which is used to transport food, droughts and increased meat consumption. The world will have 9bn mouths to feed by 2050.

Susan Watts reports on a global blue-print for food production

The author is Prof Bob Watson of DEFRA which explores agriculture which avoids land degredation, ecological damage, water degradation, climate change. Professor Ian Crute, a biochemist, proposes technological solutions to soil improvement (and genetic modification, implicitly, surely). Shift in focus from stressed land and avoiding climate change.

Oh yeah. “GM crops may well have a role” to play but the biotech companies walked out of contributing to the report because it had a distinctly anti-big-business feel.

Organic foods use less oil-based products and. Rob Haward of Riverford Organics wants to avoid expensive agrochemicals in favour of sustainable farming systems.

David Dixon (SciDevNet) is skeptical, points out that the US and Australian government haven’t signed up yet.

Panel on food production

Bob Watson (report author) doesn’t rule anything out. He says he’s produced a pro-science document. His basic point is that any increase in productivity must look at the environmental and social implications. He advocates market mechanism to liberalise trade. Self-interest is an important issue, because we can’t tackle climate change on our own. He wants the government to make the trading system work for poorest of the poor and carry on investing in research. China and India are becoming wealthier 1 tonnes of meat takes 9 tonnes of grain to produce. (Cue Jeremy, horrified: “That means we’d all have to become vegetarian”. Bob: “No it doesn’t”. Flesh: “Yes it does but you don’t have to guts to tell us”.

Lord Melchett is from the Soil Association and against artificial fertilisers. Doesn’t want to increase yields if the cost is pouring nitrogen-based fertilisers. He is certain that we have enough land to farm organically. He wants the government to work out how to survive on renewable ecological natural systems to feed ourselves without contributing to climate change.

Keith Jones (Crop Life) is an advocate of big business technology. He is an advocate of fertiliser because of increased yield. He points out that less fertiliser means more land given over to crops. He’s for free trade without subsidies which are barriers to trade and which militate against food production. He objects to non-tariff barriers to trade. From the government he wants framework for farmers to access knowledge and technology they need to make decision.

Liz MacKean reports on waste

This starts with an interview with a freegan / dumpster diver, and then clambering on a landfill. The estimate is that that 80% could be recycled. Most waste is food but the methane emissions are serious. 30m tonnes of food are consumed each year by 60m people.

Waste accounts for 80% of the planet’s resources. We throw away 8b a year – one in three bags of food.

100 years ago ashes, geathers and bones. Now the government’s waste agency WRAP estimates that a fifth of wasted food is fresh food. Wrap 40% is fruit and veg including 4.5m apples, 5m potatoes, 1.5m bananas. The principle reasons are storage and portion control.

Anaerobic digester plant (by Greenfinch Ltd) converts foodwaste into energy. The plant can cope with waste from 30k households per year.

Landfill taxes will give waste managers like Biffa an incentive to work on reduction. But many councils are looking at getting round these with incineration – governments fund them and they can deal with great volumes of waste.

Back with the freegans they have a great meal.

Panel on waste

Paul Bettison, Local Government Association, disagrees with BOGOFs to which he attributes so many unopened packets in the bins. He objects to the high landfill taxes which he feels are stopping LAs from investing in things like anaerobic digestion plants.

Tony Juniper from Friends of the Earth, wants to change our culture and retrieve meal planning. The economics of waste mgt are changing, the costs are changing, and as we scale up the digestion plants are becoming more economically viable. LAs are getting more separation at the household levels. We need to build the cost of carbon into policy. He wants LAs to lobby more vigorously for new technologies, and championing best practice even if Govt isn’t showing the leadership it should.


2 thoughts on “Newsnight on food poverty

  1. “food riots” – blimey, I’m reading a lot of old social sci-fi right now, and they all talk about “after the food riots of the 90’s”. No wonder the survivalist trend is returning.

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