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David Cameron was right about one thing

Cameron warned that we can't take food supplies for granted

March 25, 2020 - 9:45am

If David Cameron is mentioned at all these days, it’s unlikely to be for his foresight — certainly not since calling the Brexit referendum that ended his premiership

But there’s one danger he did foresee — the threat to our food security. The evidence is in a speech he gave to the National Farmers Union back in 2008, when he was still Leader of the Opposition:

I want to focus on an issue that is vital for our economy, vital for our security, vital for every family in our country…That issue is food security. Some analysts are beginning to make some very worrying, very stark predictions. That competition for resources will become intense. That food prices will continue to rise. That there will be world shortages of food. And these analysts say that politicians should start to rank the issue of food security along side energy security and even national security.
- David Cameron

Remarkably, he took aim at the neoliberal assumption that global markets will always provide:

…in the ’70s and ’80s… We entered an era of reducing tariff barriers, growing trade, and the increasing import of exotic non-seasonal produce. In those times of globalising markets and the seemingly limitless ability of the market to satisfy the consumer, concern with food security seemed utterly irrelevant. By the 1990s, many people were talking about how there was not much of a future, nor much need, for food production in Britain — and that thinking continues to this day.
- David Cameron

We can’t take abundant food supplies for granted, he warned. Factors like soaring global demand for meat (produced from grain-fed livestock), the impact of climate change and the use of land for biofuel crops could cause global shortages.

Admittedly he didn’t say anything about pandemics — or, at least, not those of human diseases (he mentioned a number of animal diseases).

But the point is that even if other countries are capable of producing enough food to supply our needs as well as theirs, we can’t just assume uninterrupted global free trade to get that food here.

If — or, rather, when — serious disruption occurs, you can be sure that food-producing nations will see to their own needs first, followed by those of their immediate neighbours.

Do we really want to be at the back of the queue for food?

What, by the way, did David Cameron do about all of this as Prime Minister? In his NFU speech he said that UK self sufficiency in food had declined from 72% in 1996 to 60% in 2008. By the time he left office, we were still importing about two-fifths of what we consume.

You spin that as making no difference or as halting the decline. Either way, there’s no doubting the significance of what we still produce.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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Steven Roberts
Steven Roberts
4 years ago

It was mere luck that the level of imports stayed the same. If he was convinced by his own argument then he would have taken action when he was PM