A Tim(e) of Fear

We’re teetering on the brink of catastrophe. Or so it would seem, going by the reactions in the media to last month’s EU referendum, in which 52% of the turnout voted for Brexit in an outrageous act of disobedience, rejecting what political party leaders, big business, celebrities and VIPs the world over had made it pretty clear was the correct choice. This outcome wasn’t meant to be, and something has obviously gone horribly wrong with democracy.

Bad Things, clearly, are looming on the horizon. And it might come as no surprise that many of the wise souls who predict Bad Things to come about from man-made global warming are predicting similar sorts of things to happen as a result of Brexit.

One of those is Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London. Now there’s someone who doesn’t lightly put up with all this “freedom to choose” nonsense, as you’ll know if you’ve read this eerily prescient 2007 article in the Guardian, where he advocates “choice-editing”, i.e. limiting people’s food options, so that they don’t go and do silly things like buy unethical tomatoes.

A prescient article, I say, because if there’s one thing last week’s referendum has shown, is that given a choice between good and bad things, people will insist on choosing the bad, just like a horde of greedy schoolchildren in a sweetshop. They really can’t be trusted. As Professor Tim says, “there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power” if people are to be made to do the right thing, like vote Remain or eat their greens.

In a Briefing Paper co-written by economist Victoria Schoen and published earlier this year, Tim Lang sets out what he sees as the risks to Britain of Brexit, from a food policy point of view. And would you know, these are uncannily similar to the risks facing Britain from climate change.

There’s the risk of expensive food. In the paper, it says “The post-Brexit food world will be characterised by volatility, disruption and uncertainty. Food import costs will rise if the price of sterling falls.”

And it doesn’t take long to find that coincidentally, the climate-crisis food world will be characterised by exactly the same kinds of volatility, disruption and uncertainty. “Food prices driven up by global warming, study shows”, warns the Guardian. Or take this 2010 study from the International Food Policy Research Institute which “shows that global warming may further increase the prices of corn, wheat, and rice by at least two-thirds by 2050”.

But the biggie is food security. On the global warming front, things look simply awful. As the Guardian put it, citing Tim Lang in March this year: “After losing thousands of orchards and farms, Britain is now dependent on foreign production that could be hugely disrupted by droughts and heat waves resulting from climate change”. Heavens, our crucial five-a-day under threat!

On the Brexit front, things look even more pant-wettingly dreadful. In the summary of his paper, Prof Tim writes: “The UK is heavily dependent on other EU member states for food. UK food production is below 60% of consumption and particularly reliant on imports for fruit and many vegetables. Supporters of Brexit have not once addressed the UK’s dependency on EU producers and suppliers.”  He doesn’t spell out what exactly might happen, but the ominous implications are clear and – like in the best horror movies – vagueness makes them all the more frightening. If we’re not friends with the EU any more, there are likely to be… consequences.

It’s a scary prospect, made exponentially scarier by Tim Lang in a scary article entitled “How Brexit threatens Britain’s food security” in the Conversation, in which panic-inducing phrases just leap off the screen and send thrills of alarm and despondency into the reader’s brain. “Food stocks are low in a just-in-time economy, an estimated three to five days’ worth. The UK doesn’t feed itself… The UK faces harsh food times ahead, but they have been a long time coming… The Brexit euphoria won’t last long if food prices rise or shelves empty. This needs planning…” Don’t know about you, but I’m going to dash to the shops and stock up before it’s too late.

The one crumb of comfort in all this morass of terror and despond is that strangely enough, the key to solving both the Brexit and climate food crises is – you may be astounded to learn – planning. There needs to be a Plan A, naturally. A Plan B too, you ask? Of course, as Tim Lang explains in a recent radio interview. “There should be Plan B – there should be Plan C, D, E and everything!”

For Brexit, “we need a people’s food plan“. And for climate? “Obesity and climate change are two huge market failures. Our review of the last decade shows that progress requires the hands-on participation of governments – not a ‘leave it to the market’ approach.” In other words, plans! Drawn up and executed by governments, under the benevolent guidance of experts very like Professor Tim Lang of City University.

Because, as last month demonstrated, when you leave it up to people to decide things for themselves, it can only lead to trouble.

9 thoughts on “A Tim(e) of Fear

  1. News this morning that Jeremy Corbyn subsists on noodles and granola bars is another worrying indicator. Of what, I’m not entirely sure. But it’s troubling, you can’t deny that.

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  2. The pontifications of that sort of idiot is exactly why the country got mired in the EU in the first place.

    One of the things about EU agriculture policy, is that it encourages farmers to grow to subsidy and export rather than consumption. Few countries grow all the things they consume because we like such a variety but grow what we’re most suited to, including growing season. One of the reasons we’ve stopped growing apples is that we don’t eat as many (pesky choices again). People do eat a lot of bannanas and other warm climate fruit that aren’t grown much in the EU. I’ll happily manage without the carroty Spanish strawberries we import during the winter.

    “UK food production is below 60% of consumption”. Is it? Or is it 60% of what we purchse? If we reduce waste and over consumption, we might even grow a surplus.

    I’ve been reading about how a group of medieval peasants went through stages of being micro managed (by the church and Lord) and then gained some freedoms and then lost them again under the control of the guilds and the church once more. The biggest boom was while the people were managing themselves. The church said ‘no, silly people, you need us to ensure you survive the bad times and not fritter your hard work away’ and the guilds said ‘no, you can’t just do what you want to make money. We decide who does what.’ Both the church and the guilds got rich making things needlessly harder for the common man. But they were also attractive because the church offered a kind of limited unemployment insurance and the guilds seemed to ensure standards of workmanship. In reality, the people ended up looking after themselves, as they always have. The EU has slipped into the role of church and guild and is about as useful.

    The best argument people came up with for staying in the EU is that it would treat us like sh1t if we leave. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for our supposed best friend. It also spawned a massive bubble of useless people who live to spout bilge on the pubic purse. It might be scary to find out how many/few people are actually useful.

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  3. More from the Graun on countering Wrong Thinking:

    https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jul/05/media-should-rethink-coverage-in-wake-of-brexit-vote-says-justin-webb

    Media should rethink coverage in wake of Brexit vote, says Justin Webb
    Today presenter argues remain voters feel let down by the BBC’s coverage being hampered by impartiality rules.

    “The impartiality question is a reasonable one to raise – and it is one the BBC has grappled with on subjects such as climate change, where most scientists are on one side of the argument but some very feisty campaigners think they’re wrong. But the question has to be part of a wider debate.”

    and, on the same day

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/01/bbc-brexit-too-timid-impartial-on-eu-not-enough

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  4. “In the paper, it says “The post-Brexit food world will be characterised by volatility, disruption and uncertainty. Food import costs will rise if the price of sterling falls.””

    If food prices really did rise, as the doomsters would like, then there is a high probability that people would start eating and cooking more vegetables, which the doomsters also seem to campaign for regularly.

    Jeez, talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it. These people sometimes seem to be incapable of stringing a single logical thought together, never mind two or more steps in a logical chain.

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  5. This comment by Tim Lang is revealing

    “After losing thousands of orchards and farms, Britain is now dependent on foreign production that could be hugely disrupted by droughts and heat waves resulting from climate change”.

    The British Isles are relatively small in area. Therefore, if we rely purely on home produced food a poor harvest will lead to shortages. If the climate ever did become more chaotic due to climate change (it has yet to show any signs to far) then it would be better to have access to truly globalized markets, so production shortfalls in one small area do not affect total supply, or even prices. For instance, until the 1980s most of Brazilian coffee was produced in North of Parana State, and Brazil produced well over half of world coffee output. Despite straddling the Tropic of Capricorn, every few years there would be a frost. This would wipe out the annual harvest, pushing up world prices by 50% or more. Since then most production has moved North to Mato Grosso and Brazil’s share of global output has fallen, so a frost now has little impact.
    As for the effect of a depreciating currency, it will increase the prices of imports. But it will have little impact on the average price paid. For instance the pound has fallen by 10% since Brexit. If we import 60% of our food then the wholesale food price index will rise by about 6%. But a lot of that food is processed after within Britain, and then there is the retailers margin. A bag of imported sugar might go up 7-8%, but a restaurant meal with imported ingredients maybe 2-3%.
    The other side of the coin is that after devaluation exports become more competitive. Agricultural production in Britain becomes more profitable, so output will rise.
    Lang has clearly not studied and comprehended economics to the old ‘O’ Level standard.

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  6. The idea of a developing nation in Africa selling food to the UK (thereby potentially becoming wealthier) does seem odd to Prof. Lang. In the recent radio interview he dismisses it as “a fantasy of free trade – very strange politics” because Africa needed to feed itself instead. As it happens, the EU’s agricultural policies haven’t been very kind to Africa.

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  7. Last week’s Food Programme is now available as a Radio 4 podcast – worth listening to, for a textbook example of BBC partiality.

    Reviewed here: http://isthebbcbiased.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/food-and-bbc-bias.html

    And here: http://news-watch.co.uk/radio-4s-food-programme-unleashes-tsunami-of-anti-brexit-opinion/

    The News-watch site has a full transcript of the programme. The tone of the broadcast was overwhelmingly negative towards Brexit, and less air time was given to the main dissenting voice (Tim Worstall) whose segment was sandwiched between segments dominated by the anti-Brexit voice of Tim Lang.

    If anything, the BBC’s stance on Brexit has recently come across as even more partial than its stance on climate, IMO.

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  8. Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University:
    http://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/timothy-lang

    His doctorate is in Social Psychology. He was very prominent in 1988, when John Major was on a diet of Curried eggs, of which some, unfortunately at the time, were suspected of containing Salmonella.

    Lang has made a career out of the food industry and food scares, as you can see from his bio at the City link.

    “He rides a bicycle to work, doesn’t own a car and grows vegetables and fruit in his London garden.”

    What a sustainable guy he is.

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