Lies About Global Food Production

At Imperial College London last week for the excellent RGS (Royal Geog Soc) annual international conference ‘Confronting the challenges of the post crisis global economy & environment’. I was presenting on Fife Diet and how it’s all going. I’ll be posting the best of the presentations here through the week – but here’s one of the best, which was from Isobel Tomlinson from the Soil Association ‘Telling Porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production’.

In the UK and globally the future direction of food and farming is being driven almost entirely by two frequently quoted statistics. Experts such as the UN Secretary General, the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn MP, the Conservative Party, the National Farmers’ Union and Monsanto, are all saying that we need to increase food production 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050.

‘Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production’, reveals that all those claiming we need to double global food production by 2050, or 50% by 2030, are wrong about the figures, are wrong about what the figures apply to, and are wrong to claim that achieving these figures will mean we will feed the hungry or end starvation.

You can download a PDF of the Soil Association report right here.

Research into the doubling figure shows it doesn’t actually exist in the stated source -and that it is based on a number of incorrect assumptions. The scientific basis for the claims are based on a report which on close inspection actually says production would need to increase by around 70%, not 100%. As the Government states this is a significant difference. The closest the report comes to the doubling claim is projecting that meat consumption in developing countries, except China, could double. The scientific paper that the 50% by 2030 claim is based on appears to have been withdrawn by the authors.

These apparently scientific statistics are leading to an assumption that we need vast increases in agricultural production to feed the projected population of 9 billion by 2050. Many commentators are using this inflated claim to justify the need for more intensive agricultural practices and, in particular, the need for further expansion of GM crops.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:
“The ‘big fat lie’ of needing to double global food production by 2050 has dominated policy and media discussions of food and farming, making it increasingly difficult for advocates of sustainable farming methods, such as organic, to convince people we can actually feed the world without more damage to the environment and animal welfare.

“Many of those misusing the statistics in the FAO paper to argue for massive increases in food production in both UK and globally, appear to be unaware that they are in effect condemning many in developing countries to ill-health and early deaths, because they assume the spread of our unhealthy, Western diet to developing countries. In addition, these projections assume an increase of over a billion cattle, which would lead to massive increases in emissions of global warming gases.”

Those using these dodgy figures have continued to do so, even after the Government expressed some concern about them in September last year.

Independent sources quoted in the report say that with fairer diets and better distribution of food, organic farming could feed the world in 2050, with healthy diets.

  • fifediet September 8, 2010 at 14:36

    Hi Donnie
    thanks for this, looks very intersing, I’ll be in touch.


  • Donnie Maclean September 7, 2010 at 14:40

    Hi guys,

    I read the article in the Scotland on Sunday supplement last weekend. Very interesting.

    I am just starting a new business looking at nutrition, and how people can ensure they’re getting everything they need (health, immunity etc) from the food they eat.

    Today, I came across this recent research, which thought would be of interest to you, as well as to me.

    “Nutrient density of beverages in relation to climate impact” –

    I would be happy to work with you guys to ensure that you are getting sufficient nutrition from the locally sourced foods in Fife… Please let me know if you might be keen.

    Donnie Maclean