Environmental Audit Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 879

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 29 June 2011

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Zac Goldsmith

Caroline Lucas

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Sir John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Charles Godfray CBE FRS, University of Oxford, and Professor Sandy Thomas, Head of Foresight, Government Office for Science.

Q109 Chair: Welcome to all three of you. Professor Beddington, I think you have appeared before the Committee previously, in a previous format, but I welcome you all here this afternoon. We think that our food inquiry is very important and we are very pleased that you have made time to come and give evidence today. Because we have three different witnesses, it perhaps might be best if each of you introduce yourselves first of all to the Committee and then we will get straight into the questioning, if that’s okay. Do you want to start, Professor Godfray?

Professor Godfray: My name is Charles Godfray. I am a population biologist based at the University of Oxford and I chaired the Lead Expert Group for the Government Office of Science Foresight Project.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am John Beddington. I am the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Part of the Government Office of Science is the Foresight Group that is led by Sandy here, I commissioned this project and it was I who prevailed on a long-term friendship to ask Charles to chair the Lead Expert Group.

Q110 Chair: Perhaps it might be interesting to know just how optimistic you are about some real action coming out of this.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am very happy to go into that, Chair. I suppose the launch of the report was arguably well timed in the sense it coincided with the highest agricultural prices that have been observed since records have been taken. We obviously have very significant buy-in from both DEFRA and DFID Ministers including the DEFRA Secretary of State; the two Departments were sponsors of the study. I think we can perhaps go into that in a bit more detail but more generally, it has been very well accepted. There has been very positive press coverage. In February, I went with Charles to Washington where we made presentations to the Worldwide Bank staff and to the USA ID staff as well as giving presentations on the report at the US Association for the Advancement of Science and there were very positive responses. In fact, last week, we were in Rome where we made presentation to FAO and had a lunch with the permanent representatives of FAO. We then met with the President of EFAD and, subsequently, his staff, and we met the Head of Policy at the World Food Programme. I think it was fair to say that it was rather a meeting of minds and there was a general acceptance that the basic messages of the report were correct. There was a united view that action should be taken and I think that we will have to see the outcome of the discussions of the G20 but we know that agriculture is very high on the agenda and I know that the Secretary of State for DEFRA was planning to raise some of the issues that were raised in the report.

I think the other aspect of it, which is extremely encouraging, is the way in which the World Bank has bought into it. When we were in Washington in February discussing it, the President of the World Bank said he thought food security was the most important problem for 2011. I agree, and would add 2012 and 2013 as a minor supplementary to that view. So I feel very positive. The report is very much down to the hard work of Charles and his colleagues in the Lead Expert Group. It is also down to-we had 400 additional experts providing input to it and it is a fairly daunting report to read the whole lot but I think it is worth it. It was timely, I believe, and I think that we will be seeing the way in which both the UK community and the world community address some of these issues over the next few years.

Q111 Chair: Thank you very much. I think that is very helpful by way of introduction to the whole context in which we are discussing this. If you’d like to introduce yourself as well, please, Professor Thomas.

Professor Thomas: Yes. I am Sandy Thomas. I am Head of Foresight and I have been in the Government Office for Science for four and a half years.

Q112 Dr Whitehead: I hesitate to ask this question because it has such substantial ramifications but what consequences would you sketch in of, as it were, a business as usual scenario as far as food production and consumption is concerned across the world, i.e. not acting to solve the food crisis, and what other sorts of timescales would be involved in a deterioration of the situation as far as food security is concerned?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Perhaps if I could start the answer and the perhaps Sandy or Charles might add.

Chair: The acoustics are not all that good in this room, so please have regard to that when you speak.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am terribly sorry, Chairman; I just did not hear what you said to me. I know you were scolding me but I am not entirely sure on what.

Chair: I was not scolding you at all. I was just making it clear for everybody’s benefit that the acoustics in this room are not particularly good.

Professor Sir John Beddington: That exactly explains why I could not hear what was said, so I will try to project and I may have to ask for questions to be repeated. I think the issue is really fairly stark. The basic population is increasing by the order of 6 million a month,1 there is a significant increase in basic prosperity that is occurring in the developing world in particular and taken together, plus a major urbanisation trend, significantly more people are now living in urban environments rather than rural. They all point to surges in demand that are variously estimated.

We did some earlier work in the Government Office of Science pointing to a 40% or so increase in the amount of agricultural products. That understates the need for agricultural production because there will be an increase in demand for higher level products, livestock, dairy and higher level agricultural products rather than basic cereals. So that is the demand side. I think there is the basic perturbation that is coming from what I think is our increasing realisation of climate change and that climate change is showing, of course, in weather but it is really difficult to attribute any particular event to climate change. For example, the drought in Russia last year involved a major perturbation to the cereal production-is that climate change or is it weather? Well, it is manifestly weather but we have a reasonable expectation from all the analyses that severe climate events are going to be more frequent. So if we operated business as usual and did not take into account these phenomena both in the surge in demand and the problems of climate change, we are in significant danger of seeing big increases in world food prices way beyond what would be seen as being equitable. We already saw in the 2007/08 price spike that 100 million people went into genuine poverty, and the World Bank published figures to show that another 44 million were also meeting the poverty definitions. So I think the world problems of poverty and the ability to meet Millennium development goals are significantly underpinned by the fact that we need to do something about the food system, and I think Charles and his colleagues might want to expand on that.

The other issue, which comes out in the report and which I should like Charles to expand on, is that the current food system is failing on sustainability grounds. It is not sustainable in terms of its over-usage of water, and we see real problems in dealing with that. Current estimates are that we need probably of the order of 30% more available fresh water for the world community.

Q113 Chair: I think we will be looking at some of those issues in detail in a short while.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Please forgive me, Chair.

Chair: No, that is fine.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I will turn to Charles. Have I answered your question sufficiently then?

Q114 Dr Whitehead: Timescales; how bad do we get and how quickly?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think the first thing to think about is what are the particular actions in mind. For example, if we are talking about increasing funding for agricultural research, timescales are probably good to investigate now because it takes of the order of 10 years for developments to come through and provide benefits, so I think that is one timescale. A second timescale arguably might be to do with intervention and putting funding into poverty programmes to address future problems. That should be done as soon as possible. The various meetings at L’Aquila, for example, were about putting more money in; we have not seen the results of the G20 discussions yet but hopefully there will some movement on thinking about ways of enhancing agricultural production.

Other more general issues-and the Chair will probably tell me I have answered your question too fully now-are to do with reserves. We are cautious about having some sort of massive international reserve for key food products but we do think there is scope to consider the use of targeted food reserves or financial instruments to help more vulnerable countries. All of those need to be operating on fairly quick timescales.

Professor Godfray: Perhaps if I just make one point. John’s narrative argument really underlies the challenges ahead and you can go a little bit further and try and model the different drivers that are going to affect the future food system. Within the Foresight Project, we collaborated with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, which is probably the best group at the moment in doing these complex models. They are good because they include water supply and climate change. According to the projections in those models, by 2025-2030 one is looking at price rises. This is not the volatility; this is the underlying meaning of a rise of 30%. Getting on towards 2050, one is getting up to 80% or 90%. I suspect some of you around the table are economists and I do not have to stress the huge amount of caution with which you must imbue the predictions of any particular model, but a suite of models are all predicting price rises in the medium term that would affect the way we live in rich countries and would be absolutely devastating to people who are living in poor countries. As John said, inasmuch as you can look at the correlations with environmental sustainability, business as usual has some very fairly frightening things ahead.

Q115 Dr Whitehead: A second enormous question relates to what some people say about climate change in the UK, "We’ll have a climate similar to that of Loire in the future; what’s so bad about that?" and the implication that somehow the UK will be okay as far as food production and food arrangements and can be isolated from what is happening. What is your view of the extent to which that-

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think there are two points really. The first is that the current climate change projections indicate that the UK and Northern Europe more generally, over the next 30 years or so, will have a relatively benign climate change. There will be some differences. The detailed projections that DEFRA obtained from the Hadley Centre and the Met Office indicated significant problems of drought in the south of England, but more generally, I think Northern Europe has the potential for increasing agricultural production; the projections indicate relatively benign rainfall and temperature changes. There are uncertainties, of course, associated with that but I think the point here is that we do not live in isolation. We have the potential to increase food production of certain sorts but not others and that we will not be isolated from the overall commodity issues on the world market. For example, very substantial amounts of soya bean are imported to feed our livestock. That is not going to be produced in Northern Europe and there are many advances that indicate that we cannot really go it alone and be rather content with the level of climate change. I do not know if Charles or Sandy wants to add.

Professor Godfray: Just briefly; the Hadley Centre has done some interesting studies trying to look about what is going to be the overall effect globally of climate change. Although, as John says, there are winners-relatively, we are probably going to be a winner-overall the effect is substantially negative. Slightly more concerning over the last 10 years since these studies have been done is the overall negative effect of climate change. Our estimates are getting worse for two reasons. Firstly, because we are failing to get carbon out of the atmosphere and so climate change is going to be worse and, secondly, our estimate of the positive effects of climate change are now being downgraded, in particular, although warmth tends to be good, often it coincides with water scarcity. Secondly, it is now thought that the effect of direct carbon dioxide fertilisation was previously overestimated. What will hit food production first will be extreme events and especially extreme events that are correlated over large spatial scales. They will have quite major effects on food supply in the UK in terms of the economics of the food system.

Q116 Peter Aldous: Just on the specific points Professor Beddington made, do we have to import soya to feed our livestock? We have not always done that. Why can we not go back to what we used to do?

Professor Sir John Beddington: You can always find substitutes but substitutes at a price and at a level of convenience, and I think that is an issue and it depends how much livestock we have. Of course, we can think about adjusting all of these things and they are adjustable, but such adjustments come at various prices at different scales of the food chains; some on the farmers, some on retailers and ultimately on consumers.

Q117 Zac Goldsmith: Yes. The Foresight report talks about sustainable intensification as a big part of the solution to the impending food crisis. Can you start by defining what you mean by sustainable intensification?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I will probably ask Charles to do that initially, if that is okay.

Professor Godfray: We give a definition in the report and it clearly means producing more food from the same amount of land.2 Whereas in the past, simply increasing yield in terms of crops or the amount of meat produced in terms of livestock has been the beall and end-all, we are now talking about the sustainable intensification agenda trying to optimise a far more complex set of objective functions, in particular, a market increase in resource efficiency, so that means using less water, less nitrogen, less other inputs so that one is eating into natural capital to a lesser degree. Secondly, it means producing more but reducing the footprint of food production on the environment. Now, it can sound a bit motherhood and apple pie but when you look at the technological opportunities, both in applying existing knowledge-some of it is relatively old-fashioned agronomic knowledge-and some of the possibilities of new knowledge, the report concludes that there is a real opportunity of maintaining yields or increasing yields in the same acreage but having less damage to the environment.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Sandy?

Professor Thomas: Yes. I just wanted to say that we were thinking about a sustainable intensification not just in rich countries but also in low-income countries and a particular piece of work in the Foresight report shows how, in quite small farm systems, the same principles that Charles has just described also apply, so we see them as being quite flexible.

Q118 Zac Goldsmith: This is a very top level analysis and the term itself is obviously interchangeable; it can apply here, in poorer countries and so on. How do you avoid this becoming a one size fits all? Perhaps I can refine that. How do you avoid this becoming simply a process of transferring practices in the developed countries and just transferring them into less developed countries; again along the one-size-fits-all model?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think the report did quite a lot to try to avoid that as a problem. In particular, there were some studies in Africa but perhaps, Sandy, you were at that workshop; do you want to speak about that?

Professor Thomas: Yes. We worked with a wide group of people across several African countries to see what studies could be scaled up and responsive to particular kinds of crops and also different kinds of livestock. So there is a real opportunity for farmers themselves to innovate if they are given the appropriate mechanisms to build social capital. So I think we present good evidence in the report to show that the principles are very flexible and can be easily transferred to different kinds of communities. I do not think the one-size-fits-all idea really applies to the kind of arguments we were making. I think there is quite a lot of evidence to show that this is a very adaptable and straightforward mechanism that different kinds of people can use.

Professor Godfray: I think there is a really interesting two-way flow of best practice in that some of the typically more higher tech agricultural production systems developed in richer countries can be applied in poorer countries but I think we in the richer world have a huge amount to learn from some of the resource efficiencies practised in countries like Vietnam and south of China where they really close the energy loop within a farm. They integrate, say, terrestrial crop production with livestock production and with agriculture in a way where market incentives in those countries push them in the right way and we need to think where we can learn and mainstream that type of resource efficiency.

Q119 Zac Goldsmith: That is a really interesting point and I repeat what I asked at a previous panel. There was a joint report put out by FAO UN, the World Bank and another organisation-I can’t remember which one it was-all of which looked at the relative productivity of small, diverse, traditional farms as compared with the modern, industrial monoculture and they concluded pretty categorically that the smaller, more diverse farms are more productive per unit of land; obviously less productive per unit of labour. I would love to hear your response to that report and obviously its conclusions, and also to ask you whether or not you think it’s the case that we should be putting more emphasis in looking at what works already as opposed to trying to improve systems of agriculture.

Professor Godfray: Again, that is very interesting. I think there has been an unfortunate dichotomy especially in low-income countries between some people arguing that the only solution is by a pure investment in smallholders and others arguing that the only way for Africa to increase food production radically is by adopting Western, highly mechanised agriculture. It is much more complex than that. Low-income countries are highly diverse and the report strongly argues that one has to go with an open-minded, evidence-based approach. I think there are some very good examples in Brazil, which has been an extraordinary story of increased production. Although it is the high tech, mechanised farms that get the headline, one can also see fabulous examples especially in the Santa Catalina province of yields in smallholder farms being tremendously increased and interestingly with economic and skills input from the private sector going in. Literally two weeks ago, the FAO produced a report called Save and Grow, I think that is right, which again looks at taking multiplicity approaches and using the right techniques for the local situation.

Professor Sir John Beddington: There is the potential to use indigenous knowledge, which I was asked about when we were at the FAO two weeks ago. Are we wasting indigenous knowledge given that small-scale farmers have ideas of how to do things in a more efficient way, whether that is in pest control or control of storage and I think the answer is, yes, of course, but I think that we have to be fairly rigorous here and not romanticise. I think indigenous ideas for changes in ways in which one provides agricultural production are perfectly reasonable things to look at but they should be subject to the same sort of rigor that you would apply to any technology innovation. I think that’s the way to do it. You do not want to throw away what could be extremely important insights but, on the other hand, you do not want to romanticise it and say this has been done traditionally for 300 years and is the best way to do it. So I think we are slightly hardnosed on that attitude.

The other aspect is to do with it cannot be one size fits all. What would happen, for example, in a highly populated country in Africa where you have a wide variety of different farming types with a typical holding being a hectare or so at most and with countries that have very substantial areas of land with relatively low population density. I think in the former you clearly would be focusing on trying to help and increase the productivity of small-scale agriculture. And primarily, much of that is not to do with anything to do with technology but is to do with provision of infrastructure and markets and the availability of credit whereas in some of the others-Angola is one potential example-there are substantial amounts of arable land that could be used at a highly intensified way and with a relatively moderate to small population density. So I think that both are right and, in a sense, the scale of the problem in answer to the first question is so great that we are going to need all sorts of approach.

Q120 Zac Goldsmith: Can I just ask one final question? In most development programmes over the last few decades, more or less since the Second World War, the assumption has been that the right kind of agriculture or food economy is one where food is grown in countries, produced in an intensive manner in monocultures and all geared towards export. Whole countries have seen the replacement of their domestic food infrastructure in small scale and traditional forms of agriculture that you have just been talking about, giving way effectively to mass specialisation for export. Do you think there is a case for questioning that model and acceptance of that is not necessarily being adhered to, and that that, in many ways, increases the food insecurity in individual countries as they become effectively at the mercy of global commodity markets over which they can never have any control?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think it is not only that the model should be questioned; I think it has been questioned and I think, to an extent, a lot of the Foresight report contains material to show that there are significant reasons why you want to be concerned about small-scale agriculture and thinking about ways to improve it. I think you are right in terms of history, but I think the development community has been somewhat myopic in underplaying the importance of agriculture over the last 30 years. Real prices of agriculture products were dropping for about 30 years and the 2007/08 reversal was a real wake-up call and that wake-up call has now been taken on by the key aid agencies, and I think that is really important.

Q121 Zac Goldsmith: But then do you think helping countries to establish greater levels of food security through self sufficiency should be an objective of aid otherwise it is simply focusing on what they can sell in the international markets-

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr Goldsmith, but yes, I think that a goal of total self-sufficiency just misunderstands the economics of comparative advantage. It is going to be a question of degree. Some countries are, in fact, highly dependent on imports and their topography and soils and indeed their population precludes them being anything other than partially dependent on imports. Again, it is not going to be a one-size-fits-all answer. One can pose sensible questions about whether in fact it is better, for example, to produce cash crops for export and import lower priced goods; a perfectly legitimate activity, but I think each one of those needs some detailed study. Would you agree?

Professor Godfray: Yes. When looking at low-income countries and low to mid-income countries, you need to pay special attention to the very lowest income countries, because their joining the world market is not germane at that level. I agree with you that there has been a trend in aid philosophy-initially it was trying to recreate rich country farming immediately but then the idea was that you did not put any money into the agricultural sector, and instead made much more macro-economic interventions. I think, as John said, recently there has been an encouraging return to agriculture as an engine of rural development. It has a triple benefit: it produces food; it gets money into rural economies and much of that money goes directly to women who, as you know, are a major producer. So I think there are special things that need to be done for the very poorest, and if you look at a country like Ukraine or many of the old Soviet Union countries that have an enormous potential for addressing food security, which are using farm machinery on Soviet style farms that leaves 40% of the grain on the field, then a major effort could be made in food security by making that economic investment. And the model for that type of low-income country is very different from the model for a very poor country where there are still people in calorie hunger.

Q122 Neil Carmichael: You are absolutely right; there is a huge amount of wastage in the old Eastern Europe bloc. I know Poland very well. I have seen large farms being bought by big firms and they still do not have it right in terms of the mechanisation or fertiliser levels or whatever. So you can safely say that there is a huge unused capacity there, so what do we do about it? We always talk about aid but I think what we need to really be talking about is governance and policy. I know the Common Agricultural Policy is much maligned but if you go back to the 1950s, you will know that France was pretty poor in terms of food, Germany was virtually starving in parts and the mechanism the CAP adopted was in fact the original German agricultural policy. It has gone through a lot of changes but several of its great triumphs have been moving France to acting as a major exporter. We are not exactly short of food within Europe. Britain’s output doubled basically in the period that we were part of CAP and we were still, ourselves, using subsidies of some description before. So the question I really want to ask is this: should we be looking not at handouts and aid but structural policies to enable us to effectively develop the areas that we are talking about?

Chair: I think we probably have two aspects, I do not know whether we want to perhaps give a little bit more detail on later on. Have a go at giving a brief response.

Professor Godfray: I do not know much about Poland but thinking specifically about some of these other countries, I would be very leery about trying a CAP-type solution there because I am not sure that it is needed. This is an area where the market will go in the right direction if it is allowed to do so and I think some of the problems with these countries are just the transaction costs of doing business there. If you consider what is happening in Hungary, that is a country of the old Communist bloc that has moved furthest in this direction. Just going back to some of the issues of self-sufficiency, if we are right about the challenge of demand looking ahead and we are right about the possibility of really quite highly spatially correlated production shocks from climate change, then we essentially need, as the report describes it, "an interconnected series of bread baskets connected by a global trade system that is working in favour of food security and taking account of both the needs of the poorest and sustainability". That is going to be the way to ensure food security and that, the report concludes, is a better way of going about it than national self-security, which of course is not open to many countries.

Q123 Neil Carmichael: Yes, I am not advocating self-security. I do not think anybody in 1956, the second section of CAP, would have done that either because that was not one of its objectives. Its objective was to effectively encourage specialisation with a price support mechanism so that farmers could invest in the kind of machinery you correctly say is absent in Eastern Europe. My question is this, or at least my next question is this: what kind of mechanism do you think would work to get the right kind of investment in the countries where you have already conceded it is lacking?

Professor Godfray: Governance reform in-country. Let me ask John.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Yes. I am not sure if I understand you correctly but in terms of the sort of interventions that one can look to, it is fairly clear, talking in general, that subsidies are problematic, that they cause imbalances. Lack of free trade is problematic as it causes imbalances. Another problem is the lack of some form of agreed governance about how countries react to different problems. One of the reasons we saw the major price spike in cereals was essentially Russia taking a decision, and the Ukraine, not to export. There are international agreements that need to be made.

It is interesting that in South East Asia, some agreements that have been made between states in terms of rice have meant that the 2010/11 price spike that was shown in cereals was not mimicked in rice where essentially the price has remained pretty much around what it was when the shortages started to occur. A number of interventions go towards freeing up trade and trying to avoid unilateral action and again I have no idea what the G20 report will do, but I would hope that would address some of these issues because they are quite critical.

Q124 Simon Wright: Much of the evidence that we have received highlights risks associated with intensifying production. In your view, what are those risks, particularly in relation to ecological damage, and how can those risks can be kept to a minimum?

Professor Godfray: As you intensify then there is a greater possibility of destroying the ecosystem services upon which food production is required; for example, damaging soil structure, damaging the externalities or increasing the amount of carbon coming out, increasing the amount of nitrogen. Now, the whole reason behind sustainable intensification is to increase yield while mitigating those effects. So it is explicitly agreeing with your initial premise that there are potential ecological damages of producing more food and having a major research programme and a major skills’ based programme to try to address them. But you are right that they come with risks and you have to view them against the comparative risk. So what is the alternative to sustainable intensification? Well, certainly one should be trying to work with other parts of the food system. We have largely been talking about supply but one should be increasing the efficiency of the food system, one should be reducing waste, one should be moderating demand, but if you do all that, the report, and I think most other analysts, still conclude that production and increasing supply must be part of the picture. So you either sustainably intensify or you extensify so you bring more land into food production.

The report argued very strongly that most types of land can be brought into production, but there are much worse ecological costs of doing that. That is straightforward when it comes to tropical rainforest because, given that carbon goes into the atmosphere and large amounts of rain go through tropical rainforests, if you cut down the Congo rainforest, you reduce by 90% the flow of water going down the Nile; approximately, of that order I should say. There are also costs of bringing grassland, non-agricultural grassland into agriculture, so you have to look at it as competing risks. Yes, there are ecological risks of intensifying but the report argues very strongly that the whole research programme should be aimed at reducing those risks because the alternatives of not producing more food from that amount of land are even worse and that is not to say one should not be working at all other parts of the food system-sufficiency, demand and so on-to try and make the extra amount of food you have to produce as little as possible.

Q125 Simon Wright: Which of the risks that you have identified are least able to be minimised? To what extent is there a sort of inevitability of ecological damage?

Professor Sir John Beddington: There are some current risks. One of them is indeed not having sufficient understanding of the ecosystems, of the agro-ecosystems. I think not doing any research and not understanding those risks is probably the biggest danger. I know that sounds slightly like sophistry but that is indeed the case.

Historically, something of the order of a quarter of agricultural land is significantly degraded from soils and one of the recommendations of the report is to concentrate on trying to improve the quality of that land. Now, I think one can be thinking of ways of doing that but obviously one of the major risks of intensification is that you get soil with degradation; there are ways of mitigating that. One straw person to attack is the notion that you need significantly more pesticides and fertiliser. We absolutely do not think that and that is why we are talking about sustainable intensification that manifestly does not involve significant increases in fertiliser or pesticide use.

That being said, we need to be thinking of smarter ways of dealing with problems relating to nutrients, pests and diseases of crop systems. There is real scope for our understanding of both plant and animal genomics to improve seriously the ability to address some of those risks. It is also sensible to be thinking about some of the ideas that are coming under the general banner of climate smart agriculture. This is the idea that we look both to the sustainability issues and the environmental effects but also the direct effects of agriculture on greenhouse gas production, and work is already underway in a number of areas of the world to think about climate smart agriculture that involves practices that sequester carbon dioxide. That significantly improves and drops the usage of nitrogen fertiliser and involves some sequestration of nitrogen into the soil. All of these practices can be looked at and all of them taken together do quite significantly mitigate risk.

The basic answer is that you need to be thinking of each individual agro-ecosystem as a whole; pose the risk, ask the questions about the risk and think how best to mitigate them and I think that is where some of the case studies in Africa that Sandy referred to are really quite helpful. For example, in Brazil, there have been very, very major improvement in yields but give or take about 80% of arable agriculture in Brazil is now low tillage, which significantly mitigates the risk of soil degradation.

Professor Thomas: Could I just also say that one way of mitigating several of those risks is a greater role for extension services to help both poor farmers and farmers in richer countries to adapt their agriculture to use these kind of climate smart and more sustainable techniques.

Q126 Simon Wright: What about genetic modification? How significant is GM in increasing some of the risk?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think there is scope for it. I have spoken both to this Committee and to others on this, but the basic question, "Is GM a good idea or a bad idea?" is fatuous. The answer is it depends on which genetically modified organism you are looking at, what problem it solves, can that problem be solved better than any other solution and can it be solved while addressing risks to human health and the environment? Now, in those contexts, the obvious thing is that you should be using those genetically modified organisms if they meet the criteria of not being harmful to human health or the environment and they are the best way of solving it but that is an individual organism. When the Foresight report came out, predictably others were saying that we were advocating GM as a silver bullet and, in fact, the report explicitly stated GM is not a silver bullet, but that is the way of the world. What I think is clear though is that we need to be thinking about biotechnology more generally, not just GM and that there is vast amounts of knowledge of the plant genome that is being developed in the UK at places like the John Innes, which means techniques like marker breeding are, in fact, going to be extraordinarily valuable as we move into the future. I would be reticent to ever get involved in thinking that the issues for the world are whether we have GM or not, manifestly that is not so, but it can solve certain problems.

Q127 Peter Aldous: Yes. Who, in your opinion, should be pioneering or taking the lead into research on GM and biotechnology? Should it be Government? Should it be independent research establishments, the customers, the farmers or the suppliers?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I don’t think there is any straightforward answer to that. It would depend on which organisms and which society they are operating in. For example, there is a lot of GM based research in Africa at the moment that is a partnership between major charities like Gates, the commercial companies like Syngenta and Monsanto and some of the aid money coming in via Government, and that seems to me to be a sensible way of dealing with it. Sandy knows more about this and might expand in a moment. We have a problem I think in terms of Europe and UK is that the regulatory system is such that it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a smaller or medium sized enterprise being able to have sufficient funding to get an organism accepted. But that is, in a sense, beyond my brief as Chief Scientific Adviser. That is the regulatory structure we work within. I think that there is sufficiently no-

Q128 Chair: Sorry; the regulatory system isn’t separate from what Government does, is it?

Professor Sir John Beddington: No, and thank you, Madam Chair, but I think the point I was making here is that we have a system, a regulatory system in Europe which has problems in terms of the time it takes to assess organisms and so on and I think everybody’s fairly well aware of that. I think the consequence of that in the regulatory system is that it is hard to envisage a system whereby research on GM organisms is conducted by small enterprises, so it is either Government or large ones; that is the consequences. One could advise that the regulatory-and indeed I have-regulatory system should be relooked at and thought about in a more efficient way but that is what we are dealing with at the moment. So in answer to Mr Aldous’ question, that indeed is the answer. If you look elsewhere in the world, where the regulatory regime is much less, you are seeing a number of developments of small scale companies developing technology in this area.

Q129 Zac Goldsmith: Can I quickly come in on this point? The questions you asked in relation to GM, is it the right solution to the problem and so on, are obviously the right questions but I do not see any mechanism where those questions are being asked or can be asked. So my question is what is that mechanism? If those questions are not asked, if we just see the market rushing ahead of the science, do you see that as a risk? Is that a problem? In other words, without the proper regulatory system, without the proper questions being asked by the proper people in the right place and time, is GM, in your view, a potential risk for danger?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Well, I think if you look outside Europe, GM has been adopted in something of the order of 25 countries now in different ways. Take GM soya, which does seem to solve a number of problems which can’t be solved with conventionally breeding soya. You use less pesticide, you have less damage, the crop yields are higher. Those are, as it were, problems that have been posed by the market, which is essentially the same questions, the same issues to do with the regulation of it. Different sorts of regulation of course apply in different areas, but there is no indication, for example, that there has been any problem of human health from genetically modified soya.

Q130 Zac Goldsmith: Is anybody looking for evidence of products?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Oh yes, I think the regulatory regimes in Brazil, in America are very strong.

Chair: Sorry, I think Professor Godfray wanted to come in.

Professor Charles Godfray: Yes, can I just come in there?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Yes, please.

Professor Charles Godfray: I don’t have the exact figures in my brain, but I think now approximately 55% of maize worldwide is GM and I think 45% of soya, it is of that order, and there has been substantial monitoring now to look at both environmental and health effects, and this must continue, it must be intensified, but so far major problems have not arisen. I think one of the frustrations in the GM debate is frequently people are arguing past each other, because many of the concerns about GM, where health and environment are sometimes used as proxy arguments, is over the intellectual property and over GM, which as John explained, is almost now purely developed by big companies and locks in the IP. The report it is very explicit about that, and that in deciding when GM is an appropriate technology, it needs to take in not only the health environment but also the structural economic issues, how it affects the market. And I think the report argues that if there is a more explicit identification of the concerns that people have with GM, it will make deciding when and where it isn’t used-

Q131 Zac Goldsmith: I think that is wrong, with respect. I think the principal concern people have with GM-and very few people reject GM outright-is that there is no clear process of assessing the safety, and it is all very well saying millions of people eat the stuff every day, but who is checking to see whether or not there is impact? If, for example, over the next 10 years we see a tenfold increase in anaphylactic shock, who is trying to work out what the cause of that increased problem is? There are hundreds of examples of health problems going in the wrong direction, possibly absolutely nothing to do with GM, it might be something to do something we have not even considered, but unless we look for evidence that GM is potentially a problem, we are not going to find it. I think most people look at the regulatory system and they think that it is at best hopeless, possibly worse, and I think that is a concern people have, necessarily because the money comes from industry, not Government, necessarily the market is going to rush ahead of the science. You are never going to find a GM company promoting a non-GM solution to a food security issue. It is just not going to happen. So my critique of your report is that it assumes we live in a perfect world where the regulatory system is up to the task, when clearly we do not.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I would be very interested to hear your detailed criticism of the regulatory system both in the USA and Brazil and indeed Europe more generally-

Professor Godfray: China.

Professor Sir John Beddington: -because all the analysis and all the evidence that I have seen would indicate that pretty much all experts-and by that I mean scientific experts who have looked at risk assessment-suggests that the regimes, certainly in Europe, in the USA, in Brazil and in parts of Africa are extremely robust, both to human health effects and to environmental effects. So I would be very interested to hear the detailed analysis of that, but it does go against what is almost ubiquitous advice among experts.

Professor Godfray: I come from the academic sector, and certainly there is intensive research in this, and if anyone could find that information exactly as you said, then there would be huge interest in that.

Q132 Zac Goldsmith: Who would look for it, though? That is the question. Where is most of the money coming from?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Well, health authorities check all the time.

Professor Godfray: Yes.

Q133 Zac Goldsmith: How many studies have been conducted with public money in Britain into the health effects of GM products?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Well, nobody is eating GM products in Britain, so the health authorities would not be doing it.

Zac Goldsmith: I guarantee everyone in this room has eaten some kind of GM product today, on our cereal this morning. It is in our food system, absolutely.

Professor Charles Godfray: The Chinese Academy of Science have sponsored-and I can give you some references to it-a vast number of studies about this, the Food and Drug Administration in the States have done similar, so I do think that there is a good evidence base out there. I think that there are very strong incentives pushing people to look for the sort of-to use a cliché-the black swan events. Certainly if you are a young academic, that would be the way to make your career. So it is not that all the incentives are pointing to-

Zac Goldsmith: So you think a young academic’s career would be improved by pointing the finger at the industry that is likely to be providing them with grants in the rest of their career?

Professor Godfray: Certainly if I was sitting on his or her promotion board in Oxford, it would.

Q134 Chair: Okay, just before we round off this section on GM, can I just ask one question? Before Zac Goldsmith came in on this point, you said that there are various questions that need to be asked about what was the right thing. Do you see that there could be some kind of sequential way of dealing with this? So would you see GM, for example, at the very bottom of the list of things that needed to be considered before that would be looked at as a preferred option, or would you see it at the top of the list?

Professor Sir John Beddington: It depends on the problem. We have a potential problem in wheat of reed rust, which I am sure you have been told about by others. I am not certain that that is going to be solved by conventional breeding, for example. There are many others.

Professor Godfray: If I could perhaps give another example, certain of the major grains used in Africa are of poor nutritional quality and if you wanted to improve the nutritional quality of maize, then it makes great sense to use traditional breeding. If you want to improve the nutritional quality of sorghum or millet, there is no genetic variation segregating in populations, and one would have to use the GM. So whether you use conventional breeding or adopt a more high-tech solution would depend on the crop and on the biology.

Q135 Simon Wright: Professor Beddington, you mentioned earlier the Foresight report had misreported as suggesting that GM was a silver bullet. I think we recognise that GM is certainly not sufficient to address the challenges ahead, but to what extent is GM technology now unavoidable if we are moving towards this more intensive way of farming? It may not be sufficient, but is it necessary for this vision of intensive farming ahead of us?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think it will depend on the geographical area, the individual crop grown and so on. I do not think it is essential. You can look at sustainable intensification in different types of crops, in different type of geographical areas where GM does not solve a problem. It will be very difficult to think about food production, growing a whole series of cereal crops in very harsh environments with high saline content and susceptible to drought, and indeed, susceptible to particular diseases, of which rusts are the greater one, without thinking about plant breeding, whether marker breeding or GM. That would be done a case by case basis.

Q136 Peter Aldous: I will just move on. Neil Carmichael talked about the Common Agricultural Policy and what it has done in the past, but looking to the future, the CAP is up for review. From a UK context, how do you see the CAP contributing to alleviating the food crisis?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think there are a lot of issues that go beyond my brief as Chief Scientific Adviser in any revisions of the Common Agricultural Policy. To address food security issue, you need to think about a Common Agricultural Policy that produces surpluses which are available on the world market. I think that we need to be thinking about not just the Common Agricultural Policy, but trade policy more generally, which encourages high productivity in areas of the developing world, in which they can gain benefit from exporting. So there are some general issues. As I said earlier, the indications are that Europe in particular will have a relatively benign environment in the future, so there may be a potential for the production of quite significant surpluses in Northern Europe more generally, and, as Charles emphasised, obviously Eastern Europe has really substantial potential for such production. I think that in a joined-up world, it is quite likely 10 years, even 20 years ahead, there is going to be substantial exports from Northern Europe. That will be dependent on the vagaries of climate change, which are of course quite difficult to predict. But we do have an efficient agricultural system. We do have an agricultural system which can provide surpluses, whether in grains or in livestock, and I would expect that to grow, but that is more a bet than a scientific prediction, I would say.

Professor Godfray: Just very briefly, in response to Mr Wright’s question about sustainable intensification and the difficulties of trying to reduce the externalities, using the pillar 2 of the CAP gives an opportunity. There is money there that can be aligned to get the incentives right for food producers to push towards sustainable agriculture. If I can speak in a personal capacity rather than as a member of the Foresight team, some of the moves at the moment to remove money from pillar 2 and put it in pillar 1 worry me, and I am worried about the narrative of greening pillar 1. But I should also say I am not an expert in this.

Q137 Neil Carmichael: Can I just go back to Sir John’s point about the CAP increasing production in Northern Europe, because I think he is absolutely right, but I would like to probe on the mechanisms you have in mind, because obviously there is a potential conflict between protecting the environment and increasing productivity. The mechanism for productivity was in the past the price floor. The mechanism for the environment is basically paying farmers to look after the environment. Now, how do we manage to achieve both at the same time-increase productivity and also protect the environment-particularly in the area of Northern Europe, where that is obviously the greatest challenge, given the history of agriculture in parts of Eastern Europe?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I do not think there is a straightforward trick I could offer. Hopefully one will be first of all examining what are the trade-offs in terms of production and the environmental impacts, and that would be part of the job. There are a whole number of ways that one can think about changing agricultural practice to produce gains in productivity without environmental consequences-they are legion. I think in general terms, one has to understand the agro-ecosystem in a different way. This is Charles’s area of expertise, do you to expand on that?

Professor Godfray: You have absolutely put your finger on the nub of the challenge ahead, and there are some ideas of how to do it, but it is still at the sort of technical level, both in the agronomy and the economics, but I think that is a real challenge of future CAP. I am afraid, like Sir John, I don’t have any-

Q138 Neil Carmichael: But now is the time to be thinking about it.

Professor Godfray: Absolutely, absolutely.

Neil Carmichael: We are entering a period of reform in the CAP and by 2013, we will have a new CAP. It will not be the same as the current one and it will be different in lots of ways, so what we have to do is start factoring in the very issues you have raised. What do you think those issues and details are?

Professor Godfray: At a very high level it is trying to internalise some of the environmental externalities, and then you get down to the technical issues of exactly how do you get, for example, a carbon trading scheme to work in agriculture; how do you do it with nitrogen? It gets even harder when you go into biodiversity. So those are really technical issues at the moment where there is work going on, and in my view is it should be a real research priority, a very interdisciplinary programme.

Q139 Chair: Yet, as we speak, I am not sure that there has been any announcement about the new pillar 2 in the CAP budget. Presumably there has to be a lot of influence from the UK in terms of the European Commission’s stance on all of this, and is that being sufficiently fed into the representations that are being made in terms of policies that come out?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Obviously the organisation to quiz is DEFRA. It was one of the sponsors of this report: from all conversations I have had with the departmental chief scientific adviser, the Secretary of State and other Ministers of State in DEFRA, they accept the Foresight report as being extraordinarily important. The current pillars of the challenges that DEFRA is now considering-sustainability of food, trying to address environmental impacts and the recent study that it published on the ecosystem services-all point to a recognition of the report’s importance. In terms of its detailed plans, I would suggest that you talk to their chief scientific adviser or the Secretary of State, but I don’t have-

Chair: Do you talk to him?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Watson?

Chair: Yes.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Bob Watson, yes. He has been in to talk to you already, has he?

Chair: No, what I was trying to get at was what the level of communication was between you and him.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Oh, I see. Sorry. Well, we have breakfast together every Wednesday, along with a-

Chair: Enough said. Okay.

Professor Godfray: By coincidence, I have just travelled down to Oxford with Bob Watson, who was at a meeting with me, and I know that DEFRA’s input into CAP reform is a major issue on his plate at the moment.

Professor Thomas: May I add that DEFRA was an extremely enthusiastic sponsor of this report. The Foresight teams and a lot of officials in DEFRA worked very closely so that we could share the evidence base from an early stage, so in terms of impact of this evidence base and the analysis from it, that has been something that has been happening across several policy fronts in DEFRA over the last two years, even before this report was launched, so the connections have been excellent in terms of how this is informing a whole range of DEFRA’s policy, including reform.

Q140 Martin Caton: If we could look at the food strategy, is the Government providing the strategy needed to join up the policies and incentives to move to more sustainable food production?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think it is work in progress. Basically there is the background of what DEFRA is doing, and perhaps rather than read you five separate paragraphs, I will try and summarise those. Basically, on the receipt of our report, DEFRA has been championing a more integrated approach by governments and international institutions to global food security and linked with climate change, poverty, biodiversity, energy and other policies; it is playing an active role in the G20 and FAO; it is continuing to press for reform of the CAP and CFP so they are better focused on long-term environmental sustainability, as well as food security, and to avoid harmful subsidies; it is supporting the EU negotiating a pro-poor conclusion to the Doha development round; it is trying to disseminate good practice on waste; and basically working with the whole food chain, including consumers, to try to lead the way on sustainable intensification of agriculture. That was its formal response, as it were, to the report, and that is part of its policy. But I think, as we have indicated, this is policy that is currently developing, and I am sure the inputs into CAP and so on are actively being undertaken at the moment. But I think you probably should quiz DEFRA in more detail on how far that has gone forward.

Q141 Martin Caton: The previous Government had its 2030 food strategy, which as I understand it this Government endorses, in principle at any rate.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Yes.

Martin Caton: Is that the foundation of any food strategy now then?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think in terms of the detail, the previous Government produced a report, the Road to 2030, was it?

Professor Godfray: Something like that.

Professor Sir John Beddington: There is that, and I have not seen any particular change in any policy to imply there was a change. I had not seen it formally endorsed by Cabinet or anything like that. What there is is the Food Research Strategy, which I developed with a cross-government, and it is still the basis of developing a food research strategy for the UK.

The other thing is that a little while ago-I have not explored it with this Committee-I set up an organisation called the Food Research Partnership, which involves everything through the food chain from the, as it were, NFU through to the major retailers and producers, but also includes the research councils and Government departments, and that produces a whole series of reports and working group findings on where we need to be going in terms of research on the food security issues.

The other thing that has happened of course is that albeit the research councils are, under the Haldane principle, independent from Government, the BBSRC has been in the lead of a cross-research council and cross-government strategy on food security, which is putting £100 million into it.3 In addition, the Technology Strategy Board has launched some programmes to look at food security issues with closer links into industry and into the research councils and universities. There is quite a lot going on. In total, in terms of food research, current spend-or spend to April last year-was a little over £400 million on research in general areas of agriculture and food security, so that includes-

Q142 Martin Caton: Do you see food research as the aspect of strategy, if you like, that is going to have the biggest, quickest impact?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think it will have, but as I emphasised-I think in my response to an earlier question-that it is investment now, because the returns, as it were, at the farm gate, are several years away, depending on the technology, typically about 10 years. It would have been better if that had been investing 10 years ago, but it wasn’t.

Martin Caton: Thank you very much.

Q143 Neil Carmichael: The Global Food and Farming Futures Project, do you have any examples of influence that you have had on Government policy?

Professor Sir John Beddington: On our Government policy?

Neil Carmichael: Yes.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think what I have just read out really is the fact that DEFRA, having accepted this, have taken forward six or seven key bullet points from the report. I know that the Secretary of State was taking forward a number of the report’s proposals to the G20 Agricultural Ministers, and I know there has been engagement. I have met with the Secretary of State, who was part of the sponsorship of the report, and she has spoken enthusiastically about it. I have linked in with Bob Watson, as Charles has said, and I do meet with all my chief scientific advisers every week.

Neil Carmichael: For breakfast?

Professor Sir John Beddington: So I am fairly au fait with how things are developing within DEFRA, and it is very largely positive and the messages are accepted.

Q144 Neil Carmichael: Yes, because those links are really important, formal and informal in policy making, absolutely critical. Other Foresight projects, like, for example, on land use and obesity, do you have any thoughts on those?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Sandy, do you want to answer that?

Professor Thomas: Yes, perhaps I could talk about obesity first of all. This project was reported in 2007. We worked very closely before the launch with particularly the Department of Health, because they were beginning to see the need for a new strategy, so we were able to share the analysis and evidence with that department and also the Department for Education at that time. So four months after the launch, the Government published a new strategy, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, with which some of you might be familiar, and that committed around £300 million over a four-year period to a number of new initiatives.4 I think what was quite rewarding with that report in some ways is that the evidence base showed very clearly that it was going to take decades rather than years to sort out obesity and that there were many determinants of obesity, not terribly well understood, and therefore not tractable to policy responses that could be easily put in place. So quite a lot has happened since that report was launched, and certainly in the next two to three years, a lot of different initiatives like Change for Life and many other activities around the UK followed in the wake of that report and then-

Q145 Chair: Is that still being followed through?

Professor Thomas: Some of those things are. I mean, you would want to talk to the Department of Health to get a clearer picture, because obviously there has been a number of changes but, for example, the Expert Advisory Group that advised the Minister in the previous Administration have been kept on and they are still feeding in their advice to the Department of Health on obesity. I think the Change for Life programme is still current. Some other aspects that were associated with some of those ideas, for example, free swimming for the over-60s, are no longer with us. But I think there is a recognition that there is a serious problem with children particularly, and a lot of that evidence is still very much in the minds of the Department of Health officials.

Q146 Neil Carmichael: Okay, thank you. Moving on to international trade-because Sir John touched upon that in your answer about the CAP and other instruments to promote sustainable food-do you think currently institutions are geared up in the right way to promote the issues that we are talking about?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I suppose the first thing is that I think if you are talking internationally, at the highest level from the World Bank, the FAO and I believe the G20 with a Focus on Food, all will be providing leadership. I think the area that is interesting, which has the potential for being quite exciting, is the recognition that agriculture has been rather behind in discussions of climate change and in the general international negotiations on climate change. One of the areas where I think there is real potential for, in a sense, a win win is the way in which you can be looking at agriculture as a way in which you can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, not just adapt to them. I referred to earlier some of the agricultural practices, particularly agro-forestry, which can involve sequestration of carbon dioxide. There has been big progress on forestry in terms of the REDD Programme, but in terms of the progress on agriculture, it had been quite slim.

Now, one of the things that I would hope to see at the Durban meeting or perhaps subsequent meetings is a focus on encouraging climate-smart agriculture, which is arguably a better way of achieving mitigation of greenhouse gases. Agriculture produces between 13% and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions in its basic practice;5 land use change puts that up to about 30%. So there is a lot to play for, unlike in forestry, where the developed world community is saying, "Please don’t chop down your trees and get a benefit from it, we will pay you in order that you don’t do that". That is the basis of the REDD, in very simplistic terms. In the case of agriculture, encouraging agricultural practice which both increases yields, increases profitability and at the same time involves mitigating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases-and indeed, in some cases sequestering carbon dioxide-is very much a win-win. The potential for that is extremely high.

One of the things that I have been doing since the report was commissioned, but not in my capacity as Chief Scientific Adviser, is to chair an international commission on climate change and agriculture and food security for the funders’ forum for the CGIAR system. We have had two meetings, one in Washington, one in Brazil, a third is planned for South Africa in the autumn and that will be inputting into the IPCC process and also in the Rio Plus 20 process this time next year. So I think there is a lot of buy-in at the high level in terms of the importance of agriculture, the importance of food security from the President of the World Bank downwards, so I think I am encouraged. There is a lot to do, but I think the mood music is good.

Q147 Neil Carmichael: Yes, because of course in recent years, the big challenge has really been about Governments and areas giving subsidies and so on, the argument between Europe and America, the American food bill and our CAP, and whether or not we are going to have a fair playing field. Should we therefore be applying the same sort of logic to try to create a fair playing field in terms of CO2 in agriculture?

Professor Sir John Beddington: It is an interesting question. I don’t know that I can answer it. I have not thought very carefully about it in terms of a level playing field. I suppose that what one is looking to do is to ask about the mechanisms for greenhouse gas reductions, and in a way, at the moment, the REDD process has a fund from the developed world, which will pay those in the developing world not to chop down forests. I suppose what one might be envisaging is something similar, to look to a change of agricultural practice, which would mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world, but there would be some cross-payment for so doing. But that is a sort of juvenile guide to how that would be done. The technical detail will be extraordinarily complex, but I think raising the issue is important. Do you have any more to add on it?

Professor Godfray: If I can just come back quickly on the issue of trade that you brought up, in the report we discussed trade and how international trade can be worked, the governance that is needed so that the trade works in favour of food security that we talked about a bit earlier. Reducing the distorting subsidies is clearly one of the issues, and we considered the importance generally of liberalisation. We did not go down to the details, because at the time it was very unclear what was happening at Doha or what was not happening at Doha.

If I might briefly comment personally beyond the report, we have seen, as John mentioned earlier, in response to the 2008 food price spike a series of bilateral and phase 1 multilateral trade agreements in South-East Asia, which meant that in the 2010 spike, there was not a problem with rice exports. We are entering a phase of the food system where many of the major policy issues upon which the Doha round was predicated-excess production in high-income countries-have changed, not to mention the fact that the BRIC countries were still, when Doha begun, generally low-income countries. What comes next after Doha needs a real radical rethinking of international trade in food commodity, for food security. Again, as John says, one of the real challenges is how do you bring in issues of sustainability? Doha was avowedly pro-poor, although whether it will achieve that, it needs to be pro-poor plus pro-sustainability and designing sustainability issues that cannot be hijacked as cryptic protectionism.

Q148 Neil Carmichael: It is interesting, isn’t it, because there are huge firms now being developed in the commodity trading market. That is obviously showing there is a huge global market underway and perhaps that is something which needs to be considered in the context of CO2 reduction as well, because of course their activities are not necessarily in line with the objectives that we have just discussed.

Coming back to the UK, our production costs are probably higher than some of our competitors, certainly in the developed world, and so one has to pose the question: how do we expect our farmers to become more sustainable and more sort of CO2-orientated given the inbuilt disadvantage that they have?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Well, I think it is an economic and a research question. We have seen ways in which the research effort that Government has put in has enhanced productivity on farms and enhanced profitability on farms and I think that it has also done things to seriously mitigate losses. You know, the work that was being done on blue tongue, which was costing probably of the order of £1 million, managed to save something of the order of £500 million because we did not get blue tongue disease here when we had those first initial outbreaks. So I think there is a lot of stuff that we can do.

What worries me a lot are the changes in regulation that are mooted in Europe to move to a hazard-based assessment of agricultural chemicals rather than a risk-based assessment. If that is implemented and followed through at a substantial level, it has the potential to remove agricultural chemicals that enhance productivity and protect from disease. There is a programme that the Technology Strategy Board is looking at to seek to address ways that we can do that via research.

I think the other aspect though, which Charles referred to early on, is that although we have a very, very high-quality research base, the extension services systems that we had some 20 years ago are no longer there to pass the results of that research base down the chain so that you get enhanced productivity in the farms. Our key mission is to address that lack. A couple of studies from the Food Research Partnership, which, as I have explained, involves everything from the NFU through to the main retailers, have indicated that that is one of the real requirements. Some things are happening, but I think that that is one of the areas that I am concerned about. I gave a speech at Duchy College in Cornwall last week, and that was very much the message that was coming from the farming community: that they understand that good quality research is happening, but they are looking for that research to be disseminated down at the farmer level. I think some of the rural development colleges are doing just that, which is a good first.

Q149 Neil Carmichael: One of the fascinating things about agriculture is how so many different policies collide and produce outcomes, and I will give you a really good example, and that is, funnily enough, inheritance laws in Germany. In one half of Germany, a family has to split up the farm equally between children, and in the other half of Germany, you can put the whole lot to one side. There is a really clear difference, and you can see the impact. If you are flying over Germany, you see huge farms at one end and very small farms at another end, and clearly that has an impact on output, efficiency and all the rest. So how do we overcome that kind of policy difference? I suppose we can assume you cannot impact on the kind of policy areas we have just been discussing?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think that takes you out of the domain of scientific advice, really.

Chair: I think Professor Godfray wanted to come in on some specific-

Neil Carmichael: But it is interesting, isn’t it?

Professor Godfray: I would comment that some explanation has been given for why France had a revolution with inheritance law and why we are sitting in the mother of parliaments here.

Chair: Hold on, hold on, I think we need to move on to some specific research bits.

Q150 Zac Goldsmith: Well, much of the research questions I was going to ask have already been addressed. I know of some more specific areas of research where we should be putting emphasis, so I will still ask you that general question, but before I do, can I just follow up on something that Neil was saying in relation to tariffs and protections and so on? Is there any case in any circumstance for any protectionist policies in relation to food and farming in this country? Can you see any areas where protectionism, in your view, would be justified?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I don’t think I can.

Zac Goldsmith: Would you agree with that?

Professor s Godfray: I would agree with that.

Zac Goldsmith: That is a huge topic, so I am not going to pursue that, so I am going to leave it at that and go back to my research questions.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think waste is the area, and I would like to Charles to expand on that, which I think has been neglected and needs some thought.

Q151 Peter Aldous: Have we not spent an hour and a half talking about intensification? Aren’t we barking up the wrong tree? Should we not be eliminating waste before we come on to intensification?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I think it is low-hanging fruit in the developing world. It has arguably potentially changed, but I think the problem is so serious generally-I said in my initial comments that we are talking about a 40% increase in demand for food in 19 years, and I haven’t done my long division as to work out what percentage increase, but saying, "Oh, let’s deal with waste first and then let us deal with other issues of plant productivity or pest and disease control" I don’t think we should think about that. In terms of waste, I think the report does categorise two areas which I think are worth exploring. Do you want to expand on this?

Professor Godfray: Yes, if I could just preface it by saying that probably, in my view, the single strongest message that the report tries to get across is that action is needed in all parts of the food chain, so it is not just increasing production, it is thinking about demand, it is thinking about waste and it is thinking about the governance of the food system. On the demand, and going right back to Mr Goldsmith’s question, we talked a bit earlier about the more high-tech stuff, but I would set a very high priority on research in some of the more neglected subjects, such as agronomy, soil sciences and such things. That needs as much research as high-tech. On waste, there are some really hard issues to tackle. We do not know, or really understand some of the behavioural psychology behind some of the behavioural economics of how people react to waste. There is interesting work going on, especially in the Netherlands. There might be some opportunities for some high-tech solutions, for example, sensors that help tell you when food goes off, rather than relying on fairly algorithmic sell-by dates. The report worries about the level of food literacy. I suspect that we as a nation know less about how we process and store food probably than our parents’ generation, certainly than our grandparents’ generation, and I think that is a challenge for Government to address.

Q152 Peter Aldous: Just picking up one point, you said there was a need perhaps for refocusing on soil science. Would you say the fact we no longer have ADAS makes that more difficult?

Professor Sir John Beddington: Yes, I think that there is an issue there. Since I have been Chief Scientific Adviser, I have been going around a whole series of universities and talking to departments of biology, of agricultural sciences and so on, and I think that there is a feeling that, having been neglected, soil sciences is now starting to see it. I think the work that the BBSRC is doing to fund food security research is putting significant money into departments dealing with soil science, so I think direction of travel has significantly improved, Mr Aldous. Sandy?

Professor Thomas: Yes, can I just add some of the other areas that the report highlights, particularly in relation to climate smart agriculture and the need for more research on making our applications of fertiliser more precise, and particularly for organic and inorganic fertilisers. Breeding cattle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is also something that is going to make an important contribution, as well as more plant breeding to improve tolerance to drought in particular, and the use of nitrogen in the soil and new approaches to managing various kinds of pests. So there is a whole area within the report that really looks at those factors in some detail.

Q153 Zac Goldsmith: Can I just add one point, because I don’t want us to lose this issue of waste; I think it is absolutely crucial. I know you came up with a figure of 30% of all the food that is created doesn’t make it to the plate, but others said 50%. If that is correct, then by not wasting that food, you are potentially increasing production, availability of food by up to 100%, which goes way beyond the 40% that you are talking about in the next 20 years. I am not suggesting you can eliminate all that waste, but surely that has to be the absolute number one priority? Eliminating waste has to be easier than increasing productivity.

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am not so sure it is, particularly in the developing world, because a lot of waste in the developing world is involving infrastructure development, you know, the reason it is wasted is you don’t have appropriate storage, you don’t have appropriate transport and so on, and that is a big problem. There is an issue to do with how you deal with plant losses due to pests and diseases in the developing world and I think the simple answer of just using vastly more insecticides and so on is not the correct one. One needs to be thinking about smarter ways of doing that, and particularly understanding the agro-ecology of systems, and I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done there. So I would certainly accept that in the developing world, waste is one of the problems that we should be addressing, very importantly, but it does involve doing research into areas that do not prima facie stop waste.

In the developed world, it really is a terribly difficult problem to produce behavioural change, and that is what is required. One can think about some degree of Government intervention to think about a more appropriate way of dealing with sell-by dates and two for one offers and so on, but they are cutting at the surface, and the waste figures that are published in the report indicate a very, very substantial amount of food is just being bought and not consumed. I think the report quotes a figure that it is costing each family something of the order of £700 or £800 just throwing food away when it is usable. But getting behaviour change is very, very time-consuming. I suppose the most successful behaviour change we have seen in our society is smoking, where there is still residual pockets of it, but that was a 40 or 50-year campaign. I think getting consumers not to waste food or drink after purchase is a long-term campaign, albeit your sums are exactly correct, Mr Goldsmith-say 50% and you hit the low hanging fruit. But both of these things are quite difficult, and so that is why I advocate for going for all of these things; I am not trying to prioritise particularly between them.

Q154 Martin Caton: You were talking about behavioural change in terms of waste. Can we look at it in terms of consumers and consumption? To what extent is consumer behaviour driving unsustainable food?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I am not sure I understand the question, but if I may, I think the consumer behaviour is people-

Chair: I think it is a predict and provide kind of model almost.

Professor Sir John Beddington: Sorry, could you explain? I am sorry, the acoustics got me there.

Chair: Sorry, I think it is more to do with the predict and provide approach that was being referred to by Martin Caton, that people will do what they wish to do.

Martin Caton: If the easiest way to meet that demand is for non-sustainable intensive production, then the consumer, we could argue, has some responsibility. To follow on from that, are there ways that we, at a policy level, can change consumers’ demands?

Professor Sir John Beddington: You have thought about that, Charles.

Professor Godfray: It goes back to what I was saying about food literacy. I think you are right that consumers are giving market signals that are leading to some unsustainable practice. I think there is good news. We see from Rainforest Alliance, fair trade, marine stewardship certification-I may have the terms wrong-that consumers are pushing in the right direction. I think John’s analogy with cigarette smoking is very accurate; we are a long way from having the sophisticated debate as a population about some of the issues associated with food that will both begin to enable behavioural change within individuals in the population and also enable Governments to take actions, as we have seen happening in tobacco, and I concur completely with Sir John that is probably a 40 or 50-year programme.

Q155 Martin Caton: That is interesting, the tobacco analogy, because what we saw with tobacco was the industry, the producers, resisting very strongly and very strongly trying to influence consumption behaviour. Do you think there is any danger of that, even if, as you say, there is some good evidence that people are changing their practices towards fair trade and more sustainable products? Is there a danger of the producers, because they think they can make more profit out of the way things have always been, trying to influence consumer practices?

Professor Thomas: Well, I would just like to say that during the project we worked quite closely with senior people from the private sector, and what came over very clearly from some of our supply chain workshops was that industry would really welcome leadership from Government in terms of helping to create a level playing field for sustainability metrics and very much see that they have a role to play here in helping to shape the considerable potential in adjusting consumer demand towards a more sustainable food system.

Q156 Martin Caton: A last question, do you think British consumers could affect sustainability in worldwide products?

Professor Godfray: I think they are already. I think with fair trade and with Rainforest Alliance that choices made by individual consumers in this country are having positive effects in low-income countries and I hope that will continue and spread more internationally.

Professor Thomas: May I just add there, though, that there is also a need to think about the demand from consumers over the coming decades, essentially in relation to particularly consumption of meat, and there we are likely to have less influence, and obviously the demand for grain in global terms is something that would not be sustainable if current rates of increase continue, so that is something that the report thinks about in some detail.

Martin Caton: Thank you very much.

Q157 Neil Carmichael: I was going to say, I am not quite sure it will take 50 years to change people’s habits, because my mother, who was born just before the Second World War, still today will eat anything she thinks is going to be wasted. She has that sort of mentality. I draw your attention to the change from leaded fuel to unleaded fuel, a simple tax change. That was at the end of the 1990s, wasn’t it?

Chair: It was indeed.

Neil Carmichael: The consumers switched over really very quickly from one to the other.

Chair: But I think that it is perhaps worth noting that on the change to lead-free petrol, there was a lot of negotiation and a lot of pressure, and perhaps the regulation had a role in it as well, so I think it is all about the different things which produce the behavioural change and-

Neil Carmichael: Different policy mechanisms.

Chair: It is a question of where the line is drawn, what changes are made.

Look, we have come to the end of the session. Thank you very much indeed, all three of you. This inquiry is raising a lot of issues.


[1] Note by witness: Today’s Population of about seven billion is most likely to rise to around eight billion by 2030 and probably over nine billion by 2050.

[2] Note by witness: the definition of Sustainable Intensification, as indicated in The Global Food and Farming Futures Report , Chapter 10, Page 171 —— —   The Global Food and Farming Futures Report articulated Sustainable Intensification to be 1) simultaneously raising yields, 2) increasing the efficiency of inputs and 3) reducing the negative environmental effects of food production. —— —   It requires economic and social changes to recognise the multiple outputs required of land managers, farmers and other food producers, and a redirection of research to address a more complex set of goals than just increasing yield

[3] Witness correction: the figures are £104 million per year from 2011-2014

[4] Witness correction: the exact figure is £372 million between 2008 and 2011.

[5] Witness correction: between 10% and 12%

Prepared 10th May 2012