UK: Monday manifesto: Food security matters but worry about food safety, says Cargill
Posted: August 30th, 2009 - 10:55pm
Source: Times Online
A senior vice-president of the American agribusiness giant says that export curbs are no solution to global crises
Our government is in a flap about food; the world prices of staples such as wheat, rice, corn and milk powder doubled and tripled between 2007 and 2008, provoking food riots, hoarding and panic in developing countries, before tumbling back in the recession. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, wants Britain to have a “food strategy”.
It does not impress Paul Conway, a senior vice-president and board director of Cargill, the American agribusiness giant. He reckons that governments are, as usual, getting it all wrong about food.
In August, Mr Benn stepped into the media spotlight with his thoughts about food security. He wants us to think about producing more food in Britain and has launched a consultation: is our food supply adequate, is it sustainable and kind to the environment and do we waste too much food?
The global food supply is the daily bread of Cargill, one of the world’s top grain traders, alongside ADM, Bunge and Glencore. According to Mr Conway, this war-economy notion of growing more of our own food, of eating our plates clean, is a terrible muddle and causes more harm than good. The man from Cargill says that he is worried about food security but for Cargill, the big problem is not whether we will have enough food on the table, but whether it will be safe to eat.
“What is unfortunate is that the discussion revolves around food selfsufficiency. We think the two things are different.” Talk about self-sufficiency and government intervention, hoarding, market intervention and price controls, is, he thinks, “daft”. Defra — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — should not be tempted to tell farmers what to grow and how much. Nations should stick to growing what they are good at and trade surpluses.
“This is a small and crowded island. The UK has a competitive advantage in dairy but for years it was not allowed to produce because of [European Union] milk quotas. One of the most popular vegetable oils in this country is sunflower oil. You don’t grow a lot of sunflowers in Britain.” Nor do we grow many olives.
What keeps Mr Conway awake at night is the next outbreak of food contamination. He wants tighter rules and better enforcement and points to the recent melamine poisoning scandal in China. “That is the stuff we worry about — the supply chain, making sure every link is safe. Markets go up and down and we want to make more money, but the thing we worry about is safety.”