Speaking at the Langenburg Forum 2013 in Germany, Prince Charles – the Prince of Wales – said the "aggressive search for cheaper food" that is currently commonplace in the food industry should be replaced by more sustainable and locally driven production.
“It may appear that things are well,” said the Prince. “Big global corporations may appear to be prospering out of operating on a global monocultural scale but, as I hope you have seen, if you drill down into what is actually happening, things are not so healthy.”
The UK royal suggested that current methods of working in the industry are rapidly mining resilience out of our food system and threatening to leave it ever more vulnerable to the various external shocks that are becoming more varied, extreme and frequent.”
Cheap food is ‘not cheap at all'
Prince Charles said the drive to make food cheaper for consumers and to earn companies bigger profits was sucking real value out of the food production system – value that was critical to its sustainability.
"I am talking here about obvious things like the vitality of the soil and local ecosystems, the quality and availability of fresh water and so on, but also about less obvious things, like local employment and people's health,” said the heir to the British throne.
He added that the spiralling costs of type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related conditions, coupled with practices which damage the environment, mean that cheap food production is really "not cheap at all".
"The only reason it appears cheap in the shops is because the costs either fall somewhere else, or they are being stored up for the future," he said.
“The price of apparently cheap food is costing nothing less than the Earth.”
‘Worrying shortcuts’ and vast distances
Charles said that the ‘aggressive search’ for cheaper food has driven farmers and suppliers to sometimes take ‘very worrying short cuts’.
“The recent horsemeat scandals are surely just one example, revealing a disturbing situation where even the biggest retailers seem not to know where their supplies are coming from.”
“We also have to consider the problems we expose ourselves to when we ship vast quantities of commodities half way round the world,” said the Prince.
“These long distance supply chains are apt to snap when they are subjected to sudden shocks,” he said – citing unexpected weather, hikes in fuel prices, trade disputes and disease as just a few threats to a global supply chain.
Recalibrate and re-gear
For these reasons Charles said that food needs to be produced in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner – adding that how it processed and distributed “needs to happen at a much more appropriate level.”
“In short, our food systems need to have better networks which are less globally dependent and more locally inter-connected,” he suggested. “We have to recalibrate and re-gear the system.”
“I realise only too clearly that there is no one ‘magic bullet’ solution to establishing a resilient and sustainable food system,” added the Prince, noting that local food production ‘is not the panacea.’
“But we do need to redress the balance perhaps through carefully structured incentives and disincentives if we are to evolve food systems and food businesses so that people have what they most want, and nature’s systems have what they most need to keep us all going, now and in the future.”