In farming and food systems, as in every other avenue of public life, context is everything, as I said during a discussion on Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Story’, this past Thursday.
On the programme, which asked how coronavirus is threatening food security, I pointed out that all the stories making international headlines in relation to the impact of the pandemic on food – milk being poured down the drain, plane loads of eastern European vegetable pickers licensed to travel to the UK to harvest salad crops, the hoarding, the scarcities –are reflective of the food system that exists, namely intensive, industrialised, globalised, damaging to the environment and public health and, above all, insecure and lacking resilience.
So, although the current food system seems so apparently successful, even to the extent that we have ‘coped magnificently’ with maintaining supplies of key staple foods to the consuming public during the COVID-19 emergency, we need to realise that this is actually a dangerous delusion.
In truth, this model of a highly intensive centralised production, packing and distribution system, for most of the foods that are sold in supermarkets, will continue to have devastating negative consequences on the planet and its people.
It is a system that has been progressively developed over the last few decades, driven mainly by its simplicity and accompanying economies of scale. However, this isn’t the full picture, since the process results in the loss of thousands of jobs, a huge negative impact on local economies, damage to climate change, biodiversity, public health and, as we can now see, food insecurity in the event of any sudden external shocks.
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