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Prices are down, yet spectre of a food crisis hangs over us all

By David Maddox

Article from news.scotsman.com

SCOTLAND may have to prepare for a future food crisis, a new report has warned.

The Scottish Government report into the affordability, access and security of food has raised concerns about a hike in the price of food, which peaked in June 2008.

In just under five years its relative cost more than doubled, going up by 110 per cent.

And even though prices are now lower than mid-2008, there has been another recent hike of 6 per cent since the beginning of this year on the Food Price Index.

The report outlined different futures arising from the rise, which saw prices soar 24 per cent in 2007 alone – ranging from a blip to the doomsday scenario of a full-scale food crisis.

This would combine crop and animal disease outbreaks with water shortages, triggering serious disruption to food supply. The report suggests geopolitical pressures could push oil prices to record levels of above $200 (£120) per barrel. It warned these factors could see food taken off the world market, resulting in massively increased prices, bans on exports and an abandonment of the ideology of consumer choice in the developed world.

However, the report concluded, global economic circumstances suggested the "blip" scenario was more likely.

But it added: "However, many still see this as fragile peace that can be broken at any time by supply and demand imbalances."

The report suggested that, paradoxically, it is the higher prices that could fuel the investment required to develop more sustainable lifestyles.

The threat of a food crisis has already been highlighted by the Scottish Conservatives over recent months. They have pointed out the strain to the system caused by a number of international factors, including the Chinese eating more meat, rises in oil prices and land being used for biofuels instead of food production.

They have been making calls for more effort to be made to persuade consumers to buy locally produced food.

And yesterday there was evidence that the Scottish Government Saltire scheme of marking Scottish produce has been successful, with a 21 per cent rise in sales of Scottish food in the last two years.

Speaking at the Highland Show, Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie welcomed the increase in Scottish produce sales, but warned against complacency.

"The recent food price index rise is clearly very concerning, especially when we consider that it has been estimated there may be food-price rises of between 20 per and 50 per over the next decade and demand will grow by 55 per cent between 1998 and 2030," she said.

Yesterday, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead announced new measures to boost the scheme further, including action to get more Scottish food on to menus in hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs, with clear advice on where food has come from, supporting more farmers' markets, and a new strategy to increase sales by a third to £10 billion by 2017.

In addition there will be a new charter with supermarkets and efforts to promote a better understanding of the food chain among young people.

Flora McLean, director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, said: "This policy provides us with a real platform from which to promote a better understanding of our sector, the work of our members and the excellence of their products."

 

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