Feed the World….. sugar till we are all obese.


We are told that Fat is the new normal and this is undoubtedly true. It’s another example of shifting baseline syndrome, also known as the “frog in the saucepan“. I have noticed my own waistline expand over the years – not just due to middle age spread; as my lifestyle has become more sedentary.

One theory why obesity is such a massive global health and environmental problem is that we live in an obesogenic environment. It’s amazing that more people in the world are now overweight than are hungry and obesity kills three times as many people as malnutrition.

More concrete evidence points towards the addictive properties of sugar, while Global food corporations derive their profits from food consumption, whether healthy food or not (and generally not). Whatever the cause, the problem is a real one and must be tackled.

Yet we are still implored  in this country to grow more food. Time and again the High Priests of food production – the NFU being the Archbishopric of the cult of obesity. The outgoing Pope of agricultural Production NFU president Peter Kendall pushed this particular point at the Oxford Farming Conference in January as he looked forward to “The EU [getting] back to agreeing policy in-line with …the massive challenge of global food security.” Kendall is now president of the World Farmers Organisation. Will Peter be standing up for the small subsistence farmer in Africa, or the global agro-industrial complex? Watch this space.

This means farmers rich and not rich alike get £200 per hectare per annum from us the taxpayer, for whatever they produce from their land. It could be wheat, to feed cows to produce milk to sell to China. It could be oil seed rape to make into biodiesel. It could be maize to feed an anaerobic digester to make biogas. In theory it could be used for public goods such as providing wildlife habitat, storing carbon or preventing flooding. Thanks to the power of the ag-elite, EC rules generally prohibit this sort of useful contribution to society and the planet, unless under very strict controls, for limited periods of time, through agri-environment schemes.

A small cadre of agriculturalists are still obsessed with the UK running short of food. I call this the “U-boats in the channel” syndrome. The last time there were U-boats in the channel, with 70% of our food imported  (from the Empire or Commonwealth) the spectre of a hungry nation (who needed to be fit to work in war factories and fight) led to Dig for Victory, The Great Harvest driven by the the War Ag committees – and generous farm subsidies. Food production soared, although arguably it was rationing that made the key difference, not only in terms of food availability, but also health. Rationing produced a healthier population than before, or arguably since.

This mentality continued after the war, across Europe, until we were swimming in butter lakes, with wheat mountains looming over us.

Thanks to the power of this clique and their political connections, we still pay over £3 billion a year in benefits to farmers to overproduce food in this country and trash the environment. The CAP system doesn’t discriminate, it’s not means tested. If you have more than a few hectares of land, kerching! In 2011 the Duke of Westminster (net worth £7.4Bn) was paid nearly £750,000 for his farms. By 2013 the Ag-elite were a bit miffed that their little (large) scam had been revealed and successfully lobbied the EC to stop publishing data on which farms recieved how much welfare payment.

Now all we can tell is that companies like “Meadows Food” (ah the irony) received 171 Million Euros in farm welfare payments while the biggest corporate recipient was …….da da da daaaa…..Tate and Lyle who received a whopping 600 Million Euros during the noughties.

To grow sugar and make very healthy profits in that decade.  Now they have sold their sugar refining business to American Sugar, they are in financial trouble.

Meanwhile the Government takes benefits from people on their deathbeds and forces the poor to move homes or get into serious rent arrears to save a questionable amount of money – at what social and psychological cost?


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in Common Agricultural Policy, ecosystem services, farming, public goods, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Feed the World….. sugar till we are all obese.

  1. Mike says:

    That sums it up quite well; not much more to say except this needs to change rapidly.

  2. Miles King says:

    THanks Mike. I was wondering about whether to recommend re-introducing rationing: what do you think?

  3. Adam Mantell says:

    Whilst it is an oft-chanted mantra for the likes of the NFU, the obsession with food production for real farmers doesn’t seem to extend that deep. The spread of solar farms across the landscape suggests it’s more to do with where you can make a fast buck next than anything to do with concern for world food supply. More snouts in another tax-payer lined trough?

    Why are our taxes subsidising sugar production by the way? Not sure it’s that much different from subsidising tobacco. Both addictive, both very bad for you, but one is seemingly OK and the other not.

    • Mike says:

      “….the spread of solar farms across the landscape…”. You’re dreaming aren’t you. I’m in Berkshire, where can I see one? As far as I’m concerned, it’s another necessary solution that is not being taken because of government completely uncertain energy policy; or lack of.

      • Miles King says:

        Thanks Adam and Mike.

        Solar farms certainly are springing up in all sorts of places. Take a look here


        I blogged about one particularly controversial proposal earlier this month. https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/solar-farms-and-grasslands-a-cautionary-tale/

        Solar Farms are very lucrative for landowners because of the generous Feed in Tariff subsidy; while we should be encouraging more solar power it’s far more sustainable to put panels on new or existing buildings, not in the countryside. You can do all sorts of things with a field but a roof has only a few functions.

        Better still put solar panels further south where they are more efficient and import the electricity on a Europe wide high performance direct current super grid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_super_grid

      • Mike says:

        Climate change is so urgent, we need to stop the nimby aspect of thedebate. However, the Tories will kill that thought because of rural votes. So planning authorities need information about how certain intensive farming practices have degraded the soil and vegetation, thus requiring massive chemical inputs. These are the places for solar farms. I no longer care who makes money from it; it just too urgent now.

      • Adam Mantell says:

        I live a long way from Berkshire, Mike. I have one working solar farm, one under construction and a third in the planning pipeline all within 5 miles of where I live. I do agree with both you (and Miles!) re govt energy policy incidentally. And nor am I against appropriately sited solar farms – it’s the way that public funds are being used to prop up agriculture (whether CAP or FIT’s) seemingly regardless of the vast range of undesirable externalised costs.

  4. David Dunlop says:

    I see that Peter Kendall, outgoing NFU president, is now to be president of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO): http://www.nfuonline.com/news/latest-news/kendall-new-president-of-wfo. http://www.wfo-oma.com/members.html

  5. Mike says:

    A question is – did we ever get asked if we preferred to subsidise carbon reducing solar farms or health-wrecking sugar plantations…… I’m voting Green anyway, they have the intelligence to sort these matters out.

  6. Miles King says:

    While Solar Farms will reduce carbon, they also have costs which must be included in the calculation. There are places they should not be built.

    The sugar subsidy and agricultural subsidies in general is a problem of a different order of magnitude, but no I don’t think the electorate has ever been asked to mandate it.

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