Beef cow Square

Why rely on imported energy but erect trade barriers to cheaper food?

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GAS PRICES are spiking although the UK is sitting on massive shale gas reserves that could make the UK energy self-sufficient – but we’ve banned fracking, so it remains untapped. Instead, a coal-fired plant had to be brought back online in early September to keep the UK powered when a much-appreciated area of high pressure caused a lull in the wind and consequently a lull in wind generated power.

Relying on inconsistent production methods for 25 per cent of our power may not have been our smartest move. If everyone had already converted to electric vehicles as proposed for 2030, things would have been a lot worse. As it is, there are less than half a million fully electric or plug in hybrids in the UK out of 32.7 million registered cars, roughly 1.5 per cent.

Despite the rhetoric on cutting carbon emissions: in 2020 34.5 per cent of UK electricity came from gas, 6.5 per cent came from Biomass, 1.6 per cent coal, making 42.6 per cent of UK electricity production carbon based; 8.4 per cent of our power was imported so its production source is not known; 98.5 per cent of UK registered cars run on petrol or diesel; most of our houses and hot water are heated with gas; and even some UK trains still run on diesel. And this, according to the National Grid was our ’greenest year ever’.

Why, when the UK could be self-sufficient in gas and electricity production, has it allowed well-meaning green activist to force the country to rely on imported supplies? Yet in food, where the UK doesn’t have the capability to be self-sufficient, we have imposed trade barriers on some of the worlds most efficient agricultural nations – countries that have massive land masses, temperate climates, and good soils that could supply us with us with more food for a lower cost.

Many will argue that food is essential to our survival and so we can’t rely on other countries to supply our needs, but so is fuel. And yet we are relying on imported gas for about 50 per cent of our supply, imported cruel oil, imported coal, imported petrol, imported wood pellets for our biomass plants and even directly imported electricity.

The government recently published a National Food Strategy (NFS) that contained proposals to improve the diet of the population. The NFS is concerned by the UK’s low nutrient, high sugar, and high salt content diet especially of its most impoverished citizens and yet in the same paper its authors devote a chapter to denigrating agricultural practices in the US, Australia, and Brazil. Three countries that could supply the UK with less expensive high nutrient food. And not just meat – they are also the world’s largest exporters of soybeans and chickpea vegetable protein, as well as producing large quantities and varieties of fruit and vegetables.

This past week BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was complaining (rejoicing?) that the UK does not have a trade deal with the US, but any US-UK trade deal would have to include agricultural products. When the NFS, a government document, complains about: US animal welfare practices even ones similar to those used by farmers in the UK; or about additives given to some US animals produced for other markets and that could not be legally imported by the UK; and even about US tree clearing for farmland that amounts to only 0.0003 per cent of US land – a complaint made more ridiculous as the UK’s ‘renewable’ Biomass electricity producers burn imported US wood pellets; is it any wonder that the US is not too desperate to do a trade deal?

Despite being amongst the World’s largest beef producers, the three countries demonised by the NFS: the US, Australia, and Brazil, together only provided the UK with 2 per cent of its imported beef over the last 5 years, Australia provided only 13 per cent of the UK’s imported lamb, Brazil provided only 1.4 per cent of the UK’s imported chicken, and the US provided only 0.2 per cent of the UK’s imported pork. Imports were previously limited by EU regulatory trade barriers, quotas, or tariffs but now outside of the EU, the UK should be importing more meat from these countries – not discouraging it for protectionist or environmental reasons.

Although many green activists may complain about the carbon footprint of imported food, intensive domestic meat production is only environmentally efficient if the feed is produced locally. UK intensively farmed chickens or pigs, fed on imported soy or maize are not saving the planet. The carbon footprint of their feed is higher than if we simply imported the cuts of meat our population prefers to eat – chicken breast meat, pork loin chops and bacon. The UK presently imports between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of the pork it consumes, mostly all of it from the EU but much of this pork will also have been fed soybeans or maize imported from the US, Brazil, Argentina, or Canada.

It takes roughly three times as much feed by weight to produce a cleaned pork carcass of roughly 100kg. If your market only eats the loin or the belly but does not consume the leg meat or the trotters, this may well be less than half of the weight of the cleaned carcass. Why transport six times as much feed from Illinois, when you just could import the cuts of pork your population wants to eat directly from Iowa, leaving other meat cuts to be sold elsewhere or eaten by the local population?

If the environment is our main concern, then the UK should import meat from countries that have enough land to keep large herds of animals in fields or at least produce their own animal feed for intensively farmed animals, not import multiple weights of animal feed to produce animals in the UK.

If our concern is about supply – a blockade on animal feed would have the same effect as a blockade on meat.

If we can rely on Norway and Russia (via Germany) to supply 50 per cent of our gas we should be able to rely on the US and Australia, our military allies, to supply our meat.

Read Catherine McBride’s full report ‘COOKING UP A STORM – If we need a National Food Strategy at all we’ve got the wrong recipe’.

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