David Richardson: Vital to adopt new science and technology

The population of England and Wales is growing by more than 1,000 a day, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This is roughly twice the growth experienced across the rest of Europe over the past 10 years, and two-thirds of the increase is due to immigration. There are more mouths to feed here every year and the challenge is increasing exponentially.

We are familiar with figures that show the world population is rising fast and will probably peak at between nine and 10 billion within the next few decades. But I suspect most of us believed much of that increase would occur in Asia and Africa – a long way from these shores. It may come as a shock to realise that numbers on this small island are increasing almost as fast, in percentage terms, as in parts of the developing world.

Meanwhile pundits are predicting that food prices in this country and abroad are likely to rocket over coming months as even we in the western world experience shortages of some commodities.

Most of the “blame”, if that’s the right word, can be placed on the USA where unprecedented and widespread drought has decimated crops and sharply reduced production. Bad farming weather in Russia, Ukraine and parts of South America has exacerbated the world supply problem. And I don’t need to remind Farmers Weekly readers what a disastrous harvest we’ve just had here in the UK – the second in succession in some parts of the country.

“Food security will inevitably teeter on a knife edge for the next year or two.”
David Richardson

In other words the world’s – and this country’s – food security will inevitably teeter on a knife edge for the next year or two. And who knows what climate change or other meteorological phenomenon that brings us freak weather will challenge farmers next?

The logical response to these problems is to urgently do all in our power to reduce the risks of producing food commodities, invest in the latest technologies and increase the research spend, with the ultimate objective of improving the consistency and sustainability of production, whatever the weather, and optimising yields.

It certainly is not logical or responsible to pursue policies adopted to deal with surpluses or to create obstacles to efficient production and add unnecessary costs. But that, sadly, is what is happening. A small and largely unrepresentative clique of misguided individuals spread across Europe and the UK are still doing their best to ban new technologies and scientific discoveries that could help respond to the challenges. Their political influence outweighs their numbers because of their stridency and exaggerated claims. The damage they do is compounded by the gullibility of the popular media, which repeats them.

That stridency has recently become more hysterical and shrill, probably because these latter-day Luddites have begun to realise the futility of their cause. Enlightened people have moved away from the extremists in embarrassment as they have recognised them as false prophets. Growing numbers of consumers are voting with their purses and buying sound, reliable, home-produced food, whenever possible, at affordable prices.

We can only hope the credibility of the extremist ideas that could, if allowed to prosper, condemn whole nations to food shortages or worse, will continue to decline and be cast into oblivion.

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