Britain’s food supply is highly vulnerable to cyber attacks, a leading food expert has warned, saying an increased focus on domestic production would boost UK food security.
“If someone really wanted to damage the British food system, they could just wipe out the satellites,” said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London. “Our ‘just-in-time’ system is entirely dependent on computerized logistics. When you pay for your food at the checkout, the computer doesn’t just add up the bill, it rearranges the stock.
Lang’s warning comes ahead of the release this month of Part II of a government-commissioned national food strategy. Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon, was appointed in 2019 to oversee a review of the UK food system. The first part, released last year, said Brexit was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to reshape politics.
Leaks from the upcoming report suggest it will recommend a 6% tax on high-salt foods, which could raise the price of a Big Mac by 20p and put an extra 5p on a bag of crisps. Dimbleby’s recommendations will be followed by a white paper next year that will lead to a new food law, making the next 12 months critical.
An alternative report, co-authored by Lang, Erik Millstone, professor emeritus of science policy at the University of Sussex, and Terry Marsden, professor of environmental policy and planning at Cardiff University, says the government has shown evidence of complacency with regard to food security and “places undue reliance on on others” to feed its people. “Ministers have so far set no clear targets for the UK food system after Brexit, or even for domestic production levels,” say the academics in Testing Times for UK Food Policy, published this week. “The government’s default position is to leave food issues to corporate interests. “
Brexit “has huge implications for food, not least because UK food suppliers are still closely linked to those in the EU. The food ties of half a century are not easily reproduced by a new trade agreement here or there ”.
About a third of food purchased in the UK comes from the EU. The exodus of European workers from Britain over the past 18 months has had a significant impact on food production and distribution.
According to Lang, the UK should aim to achieve 80% self-sufficiency in food production, up from around 50% currently. “We currently only produce 52% of the vegetables [we eat], and 10% or 11% fruit. We import apples and pears. It’s ridiculous. “
Four words sum up what is needed in a new food policy, he said. “Food security – is there enough affordable, accessible, sustainable and decent food from sustainable supply systems? And food defense – the need to protect supply lines.
There are huge costs to not adopting an integrated and coherent food policy, Lang added. “Britain turned food from a source of life into a source of death – obesity, diabetes, strokes, reduced life expectancy. There are also social, financial, emotional and environmental costs.
“We have lengthened the food chains. The distance between the primary producer and the food that enters our mouths involves more and more people. There are delivery services that urge us not to even go to the local cafe or supermarket – they will bring it to you. The result is that in the UK we spend £ 225bn a year on food and drink, and primary producers – farmers and fishermen – receive around 7%.
Lang and his academic colleagues have developed nine principles and tests for a comprehensive food policy that includes food security, resilience, food poverty and reducing the concentration of the food supply in the hands of a few giant corporations. Pressure must be exerted on the government to prevent it from “yielding to vested interests,” the report said.
Lang said he hoped Dimbleby’s proposals would outline a solid policy based on sustainability. “But the question is whether it will be taken back, or set aside, gutted, handpicked by the government.”