Lessons from history: We examine the political role in food production

Thousands of people across the UK are using food banks - a modern-day kind of wartime rationing. Bruce Jobson examines the political role in food production

A child gets a helping hand riding a pig at one of the council piggeries that sprang up in the period
A child gets a helping hand riding a pig at one of the council piggeries that sprang up in the period

A date passed by with barely a mention recently, but on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the US outpost of Pearl Harbour and President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) declared it to be a date which would live in infamy.

Afterwards, millions enlisted in the US military and farming was propelled into an agricultural revolution.

Prior to that, Britain had strained under the U-boat threat, and with only six weeks’ food supply left, was being starved into submission and fighting for life.

In 1940, the FDR administration introduced Land Lease; effectively, a food export programme, resulting in the US government buying up surplus food commodities and shipping by convoy to her British Allies.

By 1945, 16 million men and women had been drafted into the military, from a working population of 75 million.

The US farmers and women, who were left behind to farm the land, fed not just the entire US but the Allied forces as well as Britain. At that time, Britain was only 33% self-sufficient in food production and relied on imports from the Empire.

The rarely-mentioned US food policy produced unsung heroes and heroines of the land and, allied to 20 million homespun US victory gardens, its citizens collectively grew 10 million tons of produce, equal to all US production of fresh vegetables.

Pork production increased and sales of Spam doubled to 15 million cans per week, with 90% destined for the armed forces.

In 1940, 21% of the US labour force was employed on the land and one farmer grew enough produce to feed nine people. Since 2000, less than 2.5% of the population is employed on the land and one farmer feeds 100 people, a tenfold increase in 60 years.

Following a post-war background, Britain maintained food rationing until June 1954. Britain and Europe were effectively bankrupt and although not in a future EU, Norway had suffered severe malnutrition.

In order to turn about these events, the world required vast political will and vision, as well as immense leadership. Fast forward to the 21st Century and this begs the question as to whether our politicians and policymakers have learned from history; obviously not.

Over-paid, over-educated, some over-privileged, and divorced from the reality of ordinary people, political mandarins now oversee a modern equivalent of Second World War food rationing.

In the UK, the Trussell Trust operates the majority of donated food banks, and recently estimated 60,000 people will suffer from hunger, one-third being children. In the past 12 months, Britain’s food banks have increased by 76%, resulting in a 176% increase in the number of people receiving emergency food aid.

UK farmers remain confused and at the mercy of political whim and national interpretation. Oblivious to farming reality and any impending food security threats, Defra Secretary Owen Paterson seemingly returns from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and declares: “CAP for our time.”

However, the EU’s lack of political will reflects myopia and deluded modern isolationism as well as its own delusion of grandeur.

But let’s go back to 1950. World population was then 2.529 billion; today global population is 7.053 billion, an increase of 280%.

By 2050, world population is expected to increase to 9.150 billion and food demand to grow a further 70% by 2050.

In 2013, an estimated 1 billion people were reported as being on starvation level. Worse still, global food waste is reported at 25-30%. Yet at a cost of 40% of the EU budget, our political policy-makers continue to offer bunker mentality. Sitting, deeply entrenched, moving around vast resources on sat-nav maps of Europe, dreaming up deluded CAP strategies built on the perceived Two Pillars of Wisdom.

True political leadership was demonstrated in the 20th Century. FDR policy saved the world economically. Today, the world requires another farming revolution. The EU also requires a revolution in CAP as well as strategic thinking. But first, the EU must save itself from itself. There is nothing to suggest it will.

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