Thursday, September 13, 2007

Food Security

Where did food security come from? The Quality of Life report discusses it a fair bit.

I'm pretty sure food security hasn't been a serious issue since the Second World War. Food is quite absurdly cheap, we haven't had any threats to supply that I can think of since the war.

Far more of the food we consume is produced domestically than was the case before the First World War, when we imported a far higher percentage. Despite far greater reliance on foreign supplies the massive disruption of war and submarine attacks on merchant shipping did not force people to go hungry in the two world wars.

Even if you are concerned about food security nowadays without the prospect of enemy naval power, and none of our enemies have significant navies, home production does not offer much of an advantage in food production terms. The best strategy to ensure food security is to have as many different sources of supply as possible so that if one supplier is forced to stop, perhaps due to ecological change, you can buy from elsewhere.

That makes the policies recommended on food security grounds, most of which were aimed at increasing local production - primarily intended to reduce food miles, a particularly bad idea. The more you limit the geographic scope of food production the more you risk events, whether political, environmental or whatever, endangering a regular supply of food.

Painting false synergies between security and environmentalist policy was a weakness in other parts of the Quality of Life report as well. The idea that improving energy security and cutting emissions go hand in hand is untrue for the United Kingdom right now. The best way of improving energy security would be to massively slash taxes on North Sea Oil. That would increase the incentive to explore North Sea Oil and would cause us to rely significantly less on foreign sources. Might not help much with cutting international emissions though.

2 comments:

steve said...

I don't disagree about negotiating for multiple sources of food supply. And I agree that the best way to do that is with cash (and with as few barriers to trade like tariffs as possible). But I'm not as quick to dismiss the idea of food security through domestic production.

Food security is more than reliance on a quantitative amount of calories, it has to do with economic stability through multiple sectors and the ability to stand up a nation's own supply of food if the need arises. And I'd argue that military conflict isn't the only reason food security could be called into question. Bioterrorism and supply shock due to disease outbreaks come to mind. Threat from disease isn't relegated to livestock, either. During a pandemic among humans, routes of commerce could be shut down.

As for military issues, a WWII-style blockade might not be our biggest worry. Rather, conflict at our food's source might be of greater concern (yes, another argument for a wide and varied source plan).

As for naval power, I offer the following, which I haven't verified, so take it as you will. And I do not that China, even with highest total of vessels has nothing like the carrier groups of the United States.

Comparison of the number of ships in each nation’s naval forces. (source: http://www.worldthreats.com/general_information/Worlds%20Largest%20Navies.htm)

219 China
201 United States of America
187 Russia
124 Japan
110 Germany
103 North Korea
102 United Kingdom
99 Taiwan
68 Italy
65 South Korea
60 Turkey
57 India
43 France
37 Greece

The English Libertarian said...

I suspect that they are trying to push for more local food production on 'green' grounds and 'food security' is just a bogus way of selling it to the right.