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Food security: Politicians too scared to tell ‘the truth’

By Gary Scattergood , 08-Nov-2012
Last updated on 08-Nov-2012 at 18:04 GMT

The problem is too much food, not too little, warned Prof Tim Lang
The problem is too much food, not too little, warned Prof Tim Lang

Western politicians lack the courage to tell voters they need to consume less to help tackle global food security problems.

Professor Tim Lang told a conference hosted in London by the European Commission (EC) the prevailing view among the political classes that under production was the problem was “nonsense”.

He said figures frequently cited that food production had to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed a growing world was a “myth”.

“We hear that there are too many people, not enough resources and that it is all a problem of supply. This is complete nonsense,” he said.

‘Too much food, not too little’

“It is over production, not under production that is the problem. The problem of waste is that consumer culture has too much, not too little.

“All the social analysis shows that distortion and mal-distribution is the real problem. So, let’s cut away a lot of the rhetoric and acknowledge that the every day understanding of food security is wrong.”

Lang, who is based at City University, London, said there was no disagreement among experts at the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that western consumption, not under production was the real problem.

However, this was not being reflected by politicians, he said.

“Working with the WHO and FAO, as I do, there’s no disagreement, but when it comes to the political discourse about food it is always said that we must produce more.

The environmental evidence is not in doubt, the economic evidence is not in doubt, the elephant in the room is the consumer and their aspirations and that is highly political. There isn’t a politician in western Europe who is saying to voters ‘change’ because it’s a very hard thing to sell, yet that is our problem.”

‘Eat like kings every day’

He said it was inevitable that consumers in developing countries would want to follow the lead of the west and “eat like kings every day” and that is was imperative there was a fundamental shift in western attitudes.

“It is us who have to dramatically change,” he said. “As a policy specialist, what I see is the battle of discourses between a naïve, narrow, unscientific view that says we have to produce more food to carry on keeping this ridiculous wheel moving faster, and a more subtle, complex approach.”

This had to include a reduction in consumption, committed political action and the development of sustainable diet guidelines that took into account environmental, economic and efficiency implications, as well as health, he added.

Meanwhile, cultured or artificially produced meat could help to end world hunger, claimed the pressure group Compassion in World Farming recently.

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