A strategic alternative: localised and labour-intensive food production

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism, asks: “In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn”.

He notes that at present, the UK feeds only around 60% of its population of 65 million. The EU was the next largest supplier at 27%. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years. Other food travels much further: click on the link for a larger picture: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

There is no guarantee that these supplies would continue under the same terms following the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and there are other potential threats, such as drought, floods and/or increased global demand.

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including:

  • far less meat consumption,
  • feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues;
  • returning human sewage to productive land;
  • dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings,
  • local slaughter and food distribution;
  • managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure;
  • and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Hines notes that these measures would demand more human labour and a more even dispersal of livestock and humans around the country.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes a global economy which requires agricultural commodities to be transported for long distances, processed and packaged to survive the journey. As global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector, substantially increasing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate objectives much harder to achieve, i ts Agreement on Agriculture should be superseded by a World Localisation Organisation (WLO), under which all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food.

Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained, where feasible, from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region and countries exporting food should use the revenue to increase their own level of food security.

Hines ends by endorsing – as the answer – Tim Lang’s injunctions in the Foreword to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission (above left): calling for significantly less food wastage, more produced from less land and dietary change – eating more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy.





The advantages of a regional food supply chain, advocated in the light of the discovery of toxic phenylbutazone residues


Michael Hart 3As a search of medical abstracts reveals advice that there should be zero tolerance of bute residues, the 2002 Look to the Local report by former MEP Caroline Lucas, LWM co-founder Colin Hines and beef farmer Michael Hart (opposite) comes to mind.

It deplores farmers turning to export meat because supermarkets buy cheaper meat from countries with low wages, and low health and environmental standards. Up to date figures were found for this ‘food swap’ which consumes air-polluting fuel for no good reason:

HMRC Market Bulletin Jan-Jun 2012

Market Bulletin – September 2012 half year trade update

clive 3 asletThe report quotes Clive Aslet,who shares this concern, and a rereading of his seminal article, ‘Clocking up food miles’,Financial Times 23/24th February 2002, reveals much of relevance.

“A public whose confidence in food has been battered by successive crises salmonella in eggs, pesticides in carrots, BSE in beef, genetic modification in cereals – has understandably erected health into a totem. While costly government action generally follows each media outcry, Parliament does not always have the foresight to limit risk in advance.

“Trade liberalisation continues. The World Trade Organisation, driven by the US, wants food to be treated as a commodity like any other. It has little truck with governments that fear health risks (it does not accept the precautionary principle), and none at all with those who raise environmental objections.

“Above all, the multiple retailers that control the food system in Britain are not likely to change their ways without pressure. More than four-fifths of British food is bought in supermarkets.

“The one straw of hope that concerned shoppers can grasp is their own purchasing power. Rightly or wrongly, consumer opinion turned so violently against genetically modified crops that the big retailers were forced to declare themselves GM-free zones.

“If the vogue for farm shops and farmers markets catches on, consumers could force supermarkets to source more food regionally, with proper labelling and promotion”.

The Hart-Hines-Lucas conclusion

Look to the local cover 2 croppedAs more consumers, farmers and workers world wide are experiencing the downside of economic globalisation in agriculture and other sectors, now is the time to consider how it can be replaced with this completely different alternative of self-reliance and localisation.

This will involve dramatically reducing world food trade and re-localising production. The goal of such a “local food-global solution” policy would be to keep production much closer to the point of consumption (and regulation) and to help protect small farmers and rebuild local economies around the world.