One million children at risk of starvation in Niger; global food inflation last year of approximately 6 per cent; political instability linked to food price rises; drought in the US forcing corn prices up by 23 per cent; and more trouble down the road with Russia possibly banning wheat exports after failed harvests. Food is a very hot topic.
The Prime Minister is right to use the Olympics to focus on global hunger. But while the main focus of this summit must be to address the problem in poor countries, it’s important to remember that food poverty exists in every country – rich and poor – in the UK as well as Somalia. Food banks are emerging in our cities, and charities like Fair Share are becoming part of daily life in our most deprived communities. In 2010, public health officials calculated that malnutrition costs the NHS £13bn.
Food policy fell off the political agenda in Britain 20 years ago. Little by little, this Government is making some progress in restoring its importance. But there is a long way to go and few are formulating policy to address the impact of rising food prices.
It is not just families who will be affected. Prices are predicted to increase 6-7 per cent year-on-year; this will have a massive impact on inflation and our benefits bill, with price hikes already responsible for some of the 5.2 per cent increase in the bill last year. And our import levels – the largest in the developed world – expose us to currency volatility and export bans.
The same medicine used to address global food poverty needs to be applied here. We must increase food production and overcome our squeamishness to modified crops. And we need to change our habits. From wasting 30 per cent of all food produced, we must take food more seriously and provide greater support to families who have become less and less resilient to price rises. Families up and down the country have forgotten how to cook, how to make food go further, and are reliant on junk food that is expensive and un-nutritional. Food is as important as exercise in keeping us healthy, so perhaps the Olympics legacy in schools should concentrate on cooking and nutrition as well as sport.
Laura Sandys is the Conservative MP for South Thanet.