Our latest Soil Association report, Telling Porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production, has already drawn some criticism from within the farming community.
While Caroline Stocks, of the Farmers Weekly, agrees with the content of the report in her personal blog – that "there’s no scientific evidence that says we need to double production" – she is quite critical of the report's tone and the ‘silly name calling’. This mirrors (almost exactly) OF&G’s comments, which concluded that we would have done better if we had we adopted a more honeyed tone.
These are fair points, of course. The tone may well have (hopefully temporarily) rubbed some people up the wrong way. But with his years of campaigning experience, Peter Melchett, the Soil Association’s policy director, usually gets it right. And I have no doubt that he has done it again this time. You can read his response to Caroline below: I think it reveals the bigger picture and reminds us that sometimes we have to be prepared to stand up and speak out…
"... It was good of Caroline Stocks to take the trouble to comment on our recent report (Telling Porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production). However, Caroline objects to our 'silly name-calling' while agreeing with what the report says.
I'd have more sympathy with [Caroline Stock’s] objection if she had drawn any attention at the time to the fact that a House of Commons Select Committee had thrown serious doubts on the endlessly repeated claim that we need to double food production by 2050, or increase it by 50% by 2030, in order to feed the world's growing population. A far as I know, she didn't. Nor did she shout from the rooftops when the Government, in reply to the Select Committee, admitted that the figures looked a bit dodgy. They actually suggested that if you went back far enough and did the calculations from an earlier date, the science on which these claims are meant to be based could suggest a nearly doubling of food production might be needed. That sounds to me like a significantly bigger scandal than the leaked emails about climate change from East Anglia University. It is a scandal which is central to much of the agricultural press's coverage of the future of farming.
Yet numerous senior figures from the Government, the NFU and GM companies have continued to use these figures, never once challenged by the agricultural press, or by Caroline herself. The fact is, it took the Soil Association's "silly name-calling" to get Caroline, or indeed anyone else, to sit up and take notice.
I hope people will also notice that the authors of the original scientific paper which looked at projections (not desirable goals) for food production globally said quite clearly that increasing food production will not solve the problem of malnutrition and starvation. Indeed, increasing production is not a good predictor of whether starvation and hunger will be reduced. More important is to transform: access to food; the ability to buy food; and the ability of developing countries to produce more of their own food themselves, rather than, as now, increasingly relying on imports.
Caroline, if you see me dancing around my 'organic allotment', it will be because we've finally got all of our spring crops drilled after the long, cold and wet winter. And by the way, even Defra have caught up with the fact that min-til systems are not necessarily better for climate change, and not many people are claiming nowadays that GM crops reduce inputs, given clear evidence from the USA of overall increases of pesticide use on GM crops."
Soil Association policy director