Why can't the UK solve food insecurity? Episode seven

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Bethan Grylls speaks to Timothy Lang about food insecurity in Britain and what action is needed
Bethan Grylls speaks to Timothy Lang about food insecurity in Britain and what action is needed

Related tags Climate change Sustainability Food security Zoonosis Food safety Foodborne illness food insecurity

In the final episode of this seven-part series brought to you by Food Manufacture and sponsored by RSSL, our editor Bethan Grylls, meets with Timothy Lang of City University, emeritus professor of food policy.

In episode seven, Bethan Grylls interviews Timothy Lang - a notable academic voice who has been specialising in the areas of food policy and security. Scroll to bottom to watch.

After a PhD in social psychology at Leeds University 1970-73, Lang worked as a farmer, which shifted his attention to food policy. For years, he's engaged in academic and public research and debate about its direction. He has been a consultant to the World Health Organization, FAO and UNEP, and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, among other headline roles.

Starting the conversation, Lang and Grylls discussed the impact of climate change on nutrition: 

"Climate change is obviously part of the natural infrastructure on which all food production and therefore consumption depends,"​ he stated. "There has not been much research on whether changing conditions effect the nutrients or not, but we do know that how food is grown does shape the nutrient content. We also know that species and variety matter, so actually total nutrient intake comes from many things. We know that climate change is one of the big influencers - it shapes what can be grown and where, and whether or not it's destroyed or comes to fruition."

Grylls brought up the issue of climate change impacting food safety and Lang offered the following example of how food can be affected by severe conditions, whilst also highlighting the danger of zoonotic disease:

"We know floods can spread sewage if we're using rivers or channelled rivers to distribute sewage effluent, if there's excess flooding then those bacteria and viruses will spread onto land which may be growing food. We know that food is part of the ecosystems - we have tended to think, we rich Westerns, that somehow we have beaten nature. Actually nature is biting back now - it's not just viruses, it's zoonoses. We humans have thought part of our taming of nature is taming and manipulating animals and we're finding diseases are spreading from animals to us, but also spreading because we haven't seen the value in decentralised food systems, instead we've worshipped the globalisation of food systems.

"We have lowered our protection measures - and the food industry has helped drive that, I must be critical. Your remit if you're from the food industry is to try and get food ever cheaper, faster and more through to consumers. On one level it's been a great success, it's what farmers were asked to do and the food industry was asked to do, learning the lessons of the terrible times of WW1 and WW2 and particularly the economic crises of the 1930s, but we're now learning this is all biting back. We have overstretched things, concentrated things too much." 

So how can we begin to tackle all these challenges and tackle them equally? Grylls asked.

Lang pointed to the use of 'we' in the question, retorting: "It's not you and me, it's ultimately government. They have had a slight default response, I refer to it as 'leave it to Tesco et al'."

But equally he believes the industry need to step up and start putting pressure on government. When Grylls suggested industry is applying pressure, Lang argued that "it is not enough"​.

Watch his full interview below and you can catch up on all episodes of this seven-part series (more details below). 

Watch episode one here​​​​, with Anna Taylor of the Food Foundation as she talks cost-of-living.

Watch episode two here​​​​, with Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association as he discusses regulation and red tape.

Watch episode three here​​​​, as Mike Wijnberg of Pilgrim's UK highlights the ways in which the company has been addressing sustainability and food security. 

Watch episode four here,​​​​ which includes insight from Kim Kettle and Paul Eggleston of Long Clawson Dairy and Bridge Farm, respectively.

Watch episode five here,​​​ as Charles Baughan of Westaway Sausages discusses the importance of soil health with our editor.

Watch episode six here​, with head of climate and energy policy for the FDF, Emma Piercy, as she and Bethan Grylls delve deeper into the link between climate change and insecurity. 

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