Europe shouldn’t over-rely on food imports: top scientist

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Global food production, International trade

‘We’ve allowed ourselves to become dependent on production from South America – particularly Brazil’: Professor Crute
‘We’ve allowed ourselves to become dependent on production from South America – particularly Brazil’: Professor Crute
A top food scientist has warned Europe against over-reliance on food imports, as China and other Asian countries imported more food and stock feed to cater for their increasingly affluent consumers.

Professsor Ian Crute, chief scientist with the Agriculture and Horticulture development Board, told delegates at the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) conference earlier this month that Europe had significantly “neglected”​ some areas of agricultural production.

“In Europe the situation for the production of vegetable protein has been one of significant neglect,​” he told the IFST Spring Conference near Norwich.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to become dependent on production from South America – particularly Brazil. But, with the growth of global trade, we could end up with a bilateral trade agreement between China and Brazil, which left Europe exposed.”

This was certainly the case with pig feed and true to a certain extent of poultry, he added.

‘Significantly underperforming’

Crute concluded that northern Europe was “significantly underperforming”​ in terms of global food production.

“We import food biomass produced from an area equivalent in size to Germany,”​ he said. “We are profligate ​[in our land use] and are exporting our problems elsewhere. We need to produce more on less land. In fact, we have probably reached peak land.”

But weather fluctuations could frustrate attempts to boost food output to feed the rapidly rising global population in developing nations.

Lloyds’ list of risks register

Weather climate models consistently underestimated its effect on variations of global food production, he said. “Weather-driven events are now top of the Lloyds’ list of risks register.”

At the same time, the scale of the food challenge in Africa and Asia alone was revealed by need to produce food for a new city of 1M people every five years between now and 2050, said Crute.

Even today, 850M people around the world do not have enough food to provide the calories to sustain well-being, according to a United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation report, produced last year.

Europe was also at risk from over-reliance on fish imports, as more wealthy Asian consumers fuelled demand for high-quality imports.

Professor Dave Little, Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling University, warned: “Asia is sucking in increasing quantities of high-quality fish. That could lead to supply problems in Europe.

“Asia has a massive regional demand for fish. The rapid rise in consumer purchasing power has been matched by a rapid growth in the consumption of seafood,” ​he said.

Seafood was Europe’s number one food import, totalling 5Mt a year.

Little added that Europe needed a better structure to improve its fisheries. An extra 3.5M to 3.75Mt of fish each year could be harvested with improved stock management methods, he said.

Meanwhile, watch our video interview with Crute warning about the dangers of dumbing down messages about food sustainability here​.

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