It sometimes makes me wonder why so few people seem to draw the connections between stories in the media that cry out to be connected. Here is one example, to do with food:
The price of basic food items could rise by as much as five per cent this year because of miserable weather last autumn, the managing director of Waitrose has warned.
Mark Price said food price inflation is already hovering at three to three and a half per cent, but this is just “the tip of the iceberg” and prices could increase even more dramatically over the coming months.
Produce such as bread and vegetables will become up to five per cent more expensive because of poor crop yields leading to a shortage of supply, he warned.
Many farmers are reporting that they still have not planted crops for 2013 because of the torrential rainfall which caused flooding across parts of Britain late last year.
From the Daily Telegraph.
Then there is this item about the waste of food in some countries:
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
Something is wrong with this picture. On the one hand, we are warned that food could be in much more scarce supply, hence the risk of skyrocketing prices; on the other, we produce oodles of the stuff and yet are wasting it, in various ways (poor storage, silly bureaucratic rules about sell-by dates, lack of basic knowledge about cooking, the ease of throwing out food rubbish.) It seems to me that inasmuch as there is a genuine problem, it is that we don’t have a full free market in food. If those who talk in horror about rich Westerners chucking out half-eaten meals really are disgusted by this, how much more disgusting are policies such as EU payments to farmers not to produce food under what is called “set aside”? (This is a policy pioneered by that champion of bad economic ideas, FDR, in the 1930s). And tax-subsidies for “biofuels” that distort agriculture markets are another glaring form of waste, surely. (It is also worth bearing in mind that state-subsidised farming is often also the most destructive from a sustainability point of view; the European Common Agricultural Policy saw the use of modern fertilisers and pesticides increase significantly).
If food prices rise due to a natural shift in the supply-demand imbalance, rather than due to the distortions of the State, then we wasteful Westerners will have to relearn some old habits, whether it be never leaving food on a plate and wise storage of our food. And just to finish on this thought: how much more severe would our shortages be, if, instead of being able to tap into a global supply of food, we had to rely on purely “local” produce, as the “locavores” would have us do?
On slightly tangential point, I read that a once-prominent opponent of GM foods has changed his mind and now admits that much of the opposition was not based on honest science and reasoning.