A LEADING food expert said oil is increasingly pricing food beyond the means of growing numbers of families.
Professor Martin Caraher told an international home economics conference that a shopping basket of food should only cost €20 but it costs €35 because of the use of oil in almost every stage of its production.
Professor Caraher, who specialises in food and health policy at City University, London, and is on an Irish Government food review body, told the conference at St Angela’s College, Sligo: “The current food system is over-reliant on oil; oil to grow, process and transport food.
“There is currently sufficient food to feed the world’s population but still nearly a billion people go hungry because of the inefficient and iniquitous food system.”
Professor Caraher cited a typical Irish problem for 250 delegates from 20 countries at the International Federation for home Economics Council conference.
Prof Caraher said: “There used to be a closed system.
“Irish farms had cattle and pigs and you would have fed them on waste products and then re-cycled on the land.
“What we’ve now got is oil. Fertilisers are produced from oil. The whole system is oil-based. A family used to work the land. Now one person works it with a tractor and oil and oil is used to transport the food.”
When oil prices increased food prices didn’t match the rise and farmers took a hit.
Professor Caraher said: “That’s why Irish farmers are in crisis.”
There were similar problems the world over.
African farmers would wonder why Europeans were paying more than €1.50 for a cup of coffee when that would buy a full kilo on their farm.
He said: “The focus on ‘cheapest’ means that someone somewhere in the food chain loses, often the farmer and family and more so in the global south.
“There is no such thing as ‘cheap’ food.”
Each European cow received $2.20 a day supplement, more than the $1 a day half the world’s human population lived on.
Prof Caraher added: “The huge dependance on oil for food can’t continue. It seriously can’t, at all levels.”
Now the world was looking for solutions in new technology but that was a long-term prospect.
Meanwhile, a number of countries were taking steps to increase their “national food security” — producing more at home to reduce oil-use — and closing their borders to a number of imported products.
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