The UK Needs a Strategy for Farming and Future Food Production

The UK’s largest manufacturing industry is food production is but the final report from the soon-to-be-abolished Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) released in late March has criticised the lack of Government plans for its future.

Its review of the last decade argues that the Government must be actively involved in promoting sustainable food production and feeding growing populations healthily from locally grown food in order to meet the rising challenge of food poverty rather than relying on a “leave it to the market” approach.

The NFU (UK National Farmers’ Union) had also highlighted the issue of a lack of Government involvement at its annual conference in February 2011, where NFU president Peter Kendall, argued that the country needs a properly thought-through food strategy.

Otherwise the country will depend more and more on food imports, he said,.

Escalating prices since 2008 have affected not only consumers but also farmers, who are having to pay more for both animal feed and fuel. Farmers also consistently complain about the pressure from the major superstore retailers driving down prices to unsustainably low levels, where the return to farmers is lower than the cost of producing foods.

Key areas for action highlighted in the SDC report include reducing food waste to landfill to zero by 2015, reflecting the cost of a nutritious and sustainable diet in benefit and minimum wage levels and ensuring schools include cooking skills in the curriculum.

It also stresses that the decline in UK food production and helping to expand sustainable production of vegetable and fruit crops needs to be reversed.

Boosting production to meet the population growth at the same time as protecting the environment are the major challenges for food producers now and in the future and arguably need direct government involvement.

The EU has already introduced some initiatives to withdraw the older generation of pesticides, some of which have been shown to be harmful to both the land and to human health. However, this has led to fears among UK growers of crops, vegetables and fruit, that there are currently few alternatives licensed and available to them.

There are more environmentally friendly low-chem agricultural products, including biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers in the pipeline from the biopesticides developers but they are very expensive to get through the trial, registration and licensing processes and it can take several years.

This is just one instance of where a properly -funded, planned and government-driven food strategy can make a difference, not least if it were possible to get a common agreement between governments on the licencing criteria, rather than the country by country approach to regulation that can hamper efforts to get new, more environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural products out to the producers who need to use them to increase productivity, protect their yield from wastage that results from attacks by pests and diseases, protect their land’s fertility and to be able to bring healthier, residue free produce to consumers looking for healthy foods at a price they can afford.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Small Farmers Are Important for Future Food Security and Sustainable Food Production

It is generally assumed that “big is best” because of the financial savings that can be made from economies of scale, and this has been one of the drivers of the trend to large-scale farming.

There is, however, a growing body of opinion that the reverse is true and that food security, diversity and sustainable agriculture may be better achieved by supporting the world’s small and family farmers.

According to the US campaigning organisation large-scale agriculture tends to focus on monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinery.

The UK’s Foresight Project and both argue that small-scale farming is likely to be more diverse, more flexible and more environmentally friendly.

It is probably no coincidence that large-scale operations are referred to as agribusiness, with all this implies about the importance about making a profit for shareholders and also growing what is likely to produce the highest returns, such as the current shift in agriculture to producing biofuels.

The UK farming periodical Farmers Weekly recently published an article arguing that large-scale agriculture represented a threat to small farmers who are already struggling to make a living. Smallholder and family farming is the dominant form of food production throughout the major developing regions of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. It is also widespread throughout the developed world.

According to the most recent World Bank report, more and more people are being pushed into extreme poverty by rising food prices. It said that food prices had risen by 36% since April 2010 and predicted that up to ten million more people could fall below the extreme poverty threshold of less than 76p per day in the next few months. That is in addition to the extra 44 million people who have been pushed into food poverty during the last year.

The pressure on farmers to produce more to meet the needs of a growing global population is therefore intensifying and it makes sense to make the best use of all the sources of food production on the planet, large and small.

While small farms are likely to plant mixtures of crops, to use techniques like intercropping and to rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility, they will nevertheless need some support if they are to increase their production.

It is in the areas of access to new agricultural technology, such as low-chem biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers, and to training in their use, where small farmers could most benefit.

Such products are derived largely from naturally occurring sources and would fit well into the mix of existing sustainable small farming methods and techniques to enhance yield and reduce crop loss from disease and damage.

But they are expensive to research, trial and license and therefore need strong support from governments, including perhaps financial subsidies, if they are to be affordable for the smaller producers.

Each small increase in production can only help towards ensuring that there are adequate food supplies for the future, but also there is evidence that small farms producing for local markets increase local prosperity, food security and promote better social cohesion.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Impact of the Economic Downturn on Employment in the Food Manufacturing Industry

The impact of the downturn on employment in the Food Manufacturing Industry today is worldwide. The US processed food sector had steady growth in the ten year period after 1997, with slight decline near the end. Many employed in the food manufacturing industry are multinationals. Growth in processed food goods can be attributed to several factors, including two income families, less time at home for food preparation, and more take home and restaurant food purchases. Over that ten year period, the value of food shipments increased about 27 percent.

Many smaller food manufacturing companies are hit harder by economic downturns. They employ fewer people in food jobs; pay more for food products, deliveries, and for manufacturing costs than large companies. The few large companies hire more multinationals, who account for about a third of all food industry jobs. About 89 percent of the smaller companies have less than 100 workers. Many smaller companies are swallowed up in acquisitions by large companies.

The impact of the economic downturn on employment in the Food Manufacturing Industry affects automation and technology purchasing also, as these allow companies to operate at even higher output levels with fewer employees, adding to less employment in food manufacturing jobs. Employment in that ten year period declined about 5 percent. Wages and salaries showed virtually no increase when compared to the general economy (US) which had a projected growth of 11 percent.

Supermarkets have added more prepared meals to their shelves, and people want ready to serve snacks and frozen entrees. This demand is caused by two parent or single parent working families who have possibly more income yet less time for food preparation. It is not uncommon for families to eat out several times a week on a regular basis instead of just on special occasions. An aging population and a dieting population has also contributed to the demand for convenience foods, ready to eat, and restaurant foods. As ethnic populations of countries change with immigration, so do demands on the food manufacturing industry. A green trend towards eating locally produced food, organic foods, and medical allergy problems also affect food product demands and manufacturing costs.

Rising cost of fuel such as gasoline has also caused the impact of the economic downturn on employment in the Food Manufacturing Industry. A worldwide jump in costs for grains and vegetables has caused shortages of certain products and high prices everywhere. Some industries, like milk in the UK, are cutting back products and employment as costs rise. The fight over corn and grains for food or fuel has costs skyrocketing, with a boomerang effect on items like beef, which not only has encountered rising costs for feed, but transportation and processing. The plumping of humans causes another increase in vegetable prices, as people want more products; it is a supply and demand plus costs situation there.

Rising cost of ingredients has put the hammer down on small companies, like mom and pop bakeries or bagel companies, because they are unable to absorb high prices of ingredients like flour or wheat. They raise prices, and may lay off employees to combat costs, where the larger producers can find ways to absorb increases in commodity prices. Combine the stress of food product demands with rising energy costs and any adverse weather conditions, and the industry cannot help but feel the pinch and react by lowering employment overall.

During the past few years, there have been several catastrophic weather events, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, which have wreaked havoc in people’s normal living conditions. The ability to obtain food, and to grow food is impacted by this, and with higher energy costs and higher food demands worldwide, the cost of all food products has risen. Competition between animals and humans is another factor, and so is competition between animal food stocks and fuel demands. Alternative energy sources, like solar and wind, and hybrid engines are one answer. To use food for fuel seems to go against basic human sensibilities and interest. Using corn and wheat to power machines instead of humans will only increase food prices and lessen employment in the industry.

For the future, there is widespread demand to get away from high costs of oil fuels, and to develop “free” fuels for powering machinery and electricity. Food production technology is an ongoing science that does increase output per acre, a major benefit to the world food supply. The weather, however, is beyond control. All that can be done in that area is better long term forecasting, and crop science improvements in output and planting techniques. There should be some increases in worldwide employment in those areas. The Food Manufacturing Industry, like many others in this modern age, must adjust and revise plans and make improvements to maintain its lifeblood.

Copyright (c) 2008 Ianson Internet Marketing

Food Production Lines

All food preparation, be it in a factory, restaurant of home kitchen is prepared in stages. Raw material comes in at one end and a finished product comes out of the other end. As far as I am concerned, this makes the preparation of food a production line.

I have worked in the food industry for quite some time and I know how to apply the production line principle to any situation. It is this principle which I would like to write about today.

Every production line begins with choosing the raw materials you are going to work with. You need to identify who your suppliers will be and be very clear on why you want to work with them. Firstly, you should get to know their reputation for reliability. If you have a business to run you do not want to be left without supplies. Several questions need to be asked. Is the produce fresh? Is the quality good? Is it consistently good? Is the price fair? Is it delivered in the appropriate conditions as defined by law?

Once you have chosen your suppliers your next task is to ensure that products delivered are stored in a correct manner. Frozen produce goes straight to the freezers, keeping meat and fish separate from frozen vegetables and dough products. Fresh vegetables should be stored by themselves as should meat, fish and eggs. Dry foods such as pasta, spices, canned food, flour, salt, sugar, legumes, should all be stored in a dry pantry.

In all kitchens the morning should start with the cleaning of vegetables. Some kitchens may have machines to assist workers perform these tasks, other mostly smaller kitchens will do all this by hand. In the kitchens I worked in, we had a separate enclosed department to each function so we could continue to work on all stages of food preparation all day. Smaller kitchens are not lucky enough to have this luxury so food must be prepared in stages. I strongly advise that all staff wear disposable aprons while they are cleaning vegetables fish or poultry.

After the vegetables have been cleaned and stored away the kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned and prepared for the next stage. The next logical stage would be to prepare fish and any other type of meat or poultry that needs cleaning, cutting, deboning, mincing or any other form of initial preparation. Again, the kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned before moving onto the next stage.

Once all the initial preparation and cleaning has been finished we can now concentrate on the preparation of the food dishes themselves. Remember, when preparing your menu you will still be bringing potential elements of cross contamination into the kitchen. The most dangerous of these will include eggs, milk products, tin cans, bottles and spices. You must never put any of the items that you bring into the kitchen at this stage onto the work surfaces on which you are preparing food. Always keep them on a service trolley. Remember to always wash your hands after you have touched any item which has not been cleaned during the initial preparation stages. Do not put anything like eggs directly into your food dish. Always open them into a small bowl to inspect them first taking out any egg shell that may have fallen into the egg..

Remember to implement food hygiene principles at all times. Keep meats away from salads. Do not prepare meat or fish together with vegetables that are to be served separately. Wash your hands and tools when moving from task to task.

Most of all clean your work area completely when you are plating your food. Make sure that plates are hot. Make sure that they have not come into contact with any stage of food preparation and most of all make sure that the person serving the food is both immaculately clean and in good health.

So in conclusion, the preparation of food should be undertaken in stages. Each stage should be completed and the work area cleaned before moving onto the next task. By doing this you are ensuring correct food hygiene procedure by avoiding cross contamination and by doing so bringing the risk of food poisoning down as far as is humanly possible. Knowledge, preparation, organization and attention to detail are the key to good food hygiene and quality food production. This is the job of the chef. A chef never compromises on correct food preparation procedure.