We’ve recently seen news reports of the drought affecting the US harvest, which could potentially affect global food prices. This highlights how events in one part of the world can impact our weekly food shopping.
Over the last few years, food prices have been volatile. This has also come at a time when many people are feeling their finances squeezed.
The reasons for price rises are complex – in the case of the US drought, extreme weather (which is becoming more of a problem as a result of climate change) means crop failures and less supply. At the same time, an increasing global population with changing eating habits means that there’s also a lot more demand for the world’s food.
Our food production needs ‘fundamental changes’
Last year, the government published a ‘Foresight’ report on the future of food and farming saying that our approach to food production needed to fundamentally change. We must find ways of producing more food in a way that reduces the impact we have on the environment – for example minimising use of water and green house gas emissions.
How do you do that? Well, the answer’s not simple, especially as we simultaneously want to make sure we can eat healthily, reducing the high rates of obesity and diet-related disease.
Some of the stark warnings made by the Foresight report, such as the possibility of food shortages, are hard to take in when our supermarkets are still brimming with food from all around the world, pretty much all year around. But we could soon be faced with some stark decisions about the choices we make now and what that means for longer term food security.
Are food technologies the answer?
Some experts suggest that new technologies, such as genetic modification (GM) are the answer so that we can increase crop yields and enable crops to grow in places they wouldn’t normally survive. Others suggest that it’s time to embrace organic agriculture as a way of reducing our environmental impact.
As the GM issue highlights, new production methods could be controversial. But if food prices rise and our shopping trolley becomes more expensive – will we still want to give as much attention to some of the ethical aspects of food production? For instance, high animal welfare standards, fair trade and supporting local producers.
Of course, we could achieve some of our aims by simply changing what and how much food we produce – and a lot of what we produce at the moment gets wasted.
Join the Future of Food Debate
Policy makers are grappling with how to reconcile these issues. That’s why Which? is launching a food debate to understand consumer priorities for the way we produce food in the future. We’re kicking it off here on Which? Conversation, and we’d like to know what your initial thoughts are on these long-term food issues.
Is it possible to produce more food, reduce the health and environmental impact, and still uphold other priorities such as supporting local producers and ensuring animal welfare? Or should we prioritise one of these areas? We all want food bargains, of course, but what – if anything – would you put before price?