Unchartered territory for future food supplies

FOR some time now it has been a worry that food and energy prices were getting worryingly high.

EU inflation figures confirmed this worry on Monday highlighting food inflation had gone up from 6% to 6.4% in May, while energy prices were up by 13.7% against an increase of 10.8% in the year to end April.

Recently food analyst John O’Reilly, who keeps a close eye on emerging food trends noted we are heading into uncharted territory with regard to food supply and prices in the future.

There is a broad consensus in official and academic circles that rising farm output in tandem with falling farm gate prices of the past 150 years is now history.

In that context he cited the food survey in Britain in February on a basket of own-label groceries.

It showed Lidl was working off a 20% margin for an identical basket of own-label goods compared with more than 30% for the big guns in the industry including Tesco and M&S.

The big players in the industry however are claiming no loss of business to the discounters.

While that may that may be the case O’Reilly says growing evidence exists to suggest the footfalls into the discount stores has been increasing steadily.

Indeed, anyone familiar with the growing presence of Lidl and Aldi in Ireland, from a mere curiosity a few years ago to a significant high street presence, know that Irish people are increasingly turning to these outlets to save money.

It may be we are in a post traumatic boom period and the appeal of outlets such Lidl and Aldi may wane.

But the evidence suggests individuals, who have become more discerning about what they eat, may be forced to become a lot more careful about where they shop to stretch their money further.

Because of the soaring costs of basic feed stuffs used to feed cattle pigs and chicken, the higher prices are starting to be passed on, a fact supported by the high level of inflation across the globe.

Inflation in India could hit double-digit figures this year as the scramble for basic food stuffs, rising prices and shortages of key food stuffs, such as rice, pushes a whole range of prices higher.

Short-term solutions in one area are causing huge problems elsewhere.

The oil/food link is almost symbiotic given the high use of fertilisers in food production.

As oil prices rise so do the cost of basic commodities, a cost further exacerbated by the inability of supply to meet demand, something unheard of five years ago.

What’s happening in the rice paddies of Burma or China now has ramifications for what we pay for the food we consume.

It looks to be getting to the point that the availability of land, water and more environmental constraints means the world may soon have to question how it feeds itself and the nature of what it consumes.

Feeding animals corn to fatten them is a grossly inefficient means of creating protein.

Cattle production is also a major contributor to planet pollution, thanks to the methane been spewed into the atmosphere by cattle.

Six times more protein can be produced by growing other forms of protein on our land than beef, so we may be reaching the point where for environmental and other reasons such as health, we may have to reassess what we eat and the quantities we eat in the interests of ourselves and the planet earth.

In his analysis O’Reilly makes the point that we have been carnivores for a long time and are unlikely to revert to vegetarianism.

As prices soar and disposable income dips those who grew fat on the backs of Western consumers may be facing their toughest challenges as eating patterns go through radical changes.

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