The Big Fat Lie About Doubling Food Production
April 2010 - The Soil Association, UK
In the UK and globally the future direction of food and farming is being driven almost entirely by two frequently quoted statistics. Experts such as the UN Secretary General, the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn MP, the Conservative Party, the National Farmers’ Union and Monsanto, are all saying that we need to increase food production 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050.
A new investigation from the Soil Association reveals that the widely used statistics are based on a ‘big fat lie’.
‘Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production’, reveals that all those claiming we need to double global food production by 2050, or 50% by 2030, are wrong about the figures, are wrong about what the figures apply to, and are wrong to claim that achieving these figures will mean we will feed the hungry or end starvation.
Research into the doubling figure shows it doesn’t actually exist in the stated source -and that it is based on a number of incorrect assumptions. The scientific basis for the claims are based on a report which on close inspection actually says production would need to increase by around 70%, not 100%. As the Government states this is a significant difference. The closest the report comes to the doubling claim is projecting that meat consumption in developing countries, except China, could double. The scientific paper that the 50% by 2030 claim is based on appears to have been withdrawn by the authors.
These apparently scientific statistics are leading to an assumption that we need vast increases in agricultural production to feed the projected population of 9 billion by 2050. Many commentators are using this inflated claim to justify the need for more intensive agricultural practices and, in particular, the need for further expansion of GM crops.
Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:
The ‘big fat lie’ of needing to double global food production by 2050 has dominated policy and media discussions of food and farming, making it increasingly difficult for advocates of sustainable farming methods, such as organic, to convince people we can actually feed the world without more damage to the environment and animal welfare.
“Many of those misusing the statistics in the FAO paper to argue for massive increases in food production in both UK and globally, appear to be unaware that they are in effect condemning many in developing countries to ill-health and early deaths, because they assume the spread of our unhealthy, Western diet to developing countries. In addition, these projections assume an increase of over a billion cattle, which would lead to massive increases in emissions of global warming gases.”
Those using these dodgy figures have continued to do so, even after the Government expressed some concern about them in September last year.
Independent sources quoted in the report say that with fairer diets and better distribution of food, organic farming could feed the world in 2050, with healthy diets.
 Download the report here: ‘Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production’ [PDF, 902KB]
 The Soil Association is the UK's leading environmental charity campaigning for sustainable, organic farming and championing human health.
UN Based Policy of Doubling Food Production on 'Flawed Data'
20th April 2010 - Juliette Jowit, The Guardain
A declaration that global food production needs to double to feed the world by the middle of this century provoked shock when it was announced by the UN food chief. It has since become a founding pillar of food policy, cited by leading British politicians and government scientists, farming leaders and some of the world's biggest agricultural companies.
But the source of the now infamous statistic did not actually say that, claims a new report by the Soil Association, the UK's leading organic group.
The study, entitled "The big fat lie about doubling food production", traced the original source of the doubling claim back to a report published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2006.
However, using the FAO's own figures, the Soil Association says the forecast increase needed in production would be closer to 70% by 2050.
The FAO itself also warns that the figures are distorted by using food prices: because meat and dairy products are worth more per weight, a small increase in volume appears as a significantly bigger increase in "production" measured in US dollars.
The differences between the report and the claims has arisen because politicians and others have used calculations from 2000, which are now a decade out of date, and then rounded them up, said the Soil Association, which is worried that the doubling figure is being used to push unsustainable industrial-scale farming.
"In abusing the figures government ministers and others are trying to exclude the possibility of us producing food in a way that would be good for the planet and good for our health," said Peter Melchett, the association's policy director.
The report also questions assumptions made in the FAO report concerning, among other things, high levels of food waste and billions more people eating western-style diets that are high in meat and dairy products, which have been linked to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
"Instead of assuming a ghastly starvation and obesity vision of the future, what we need is food systems which feed everyone a healthy and decent diet," added Melchett.
The Soil Association study follows criticisms last summer [June 2009] by MPs on the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee, who warned that the forecasts were "projections rather than targets", and should be used to draw attention to other policies issues such as population growth, diet and waste. In its response in October 2009, the government revealed that by recalculating the figures to begin from 2005-7, food production demand growth would be lower - up to about 70% by 2050. "The difference between 100% and 70% is not trivial: it is more than the food production of the whole American continent," added the government. "So claims around food production needing to increase 50-100% need to be treated with care."
Despite the government's partial back-down, however, the doubling figure, and that for a 50% increase by 2030, continue to be used by senior figures. Since October the old figures have been quoted by the Conservative farming manifesto; the government chief scientist Professor John Beddington; former chief scientist Sir David King, who was advocating a "more open minded approach" to GM foods; and Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers Union in the UK. The doubling figure was also quoted at a conference in February by an executive at agri-chemical company Syngenta, according to
The purpose of the Soil Association report was to draw attention to the misleading use of the figures, said Melchett. "We can start to have a more sensible and open discussion about food and what farming systems are going to be possible in 2030 or 2050 when oil has started to run out and is very much more expensive, and how could greenhouse gases be lower," he added.
A major international report in 2008 by hundreds of scientists and other experts, commissioned by the FAO and the World Bank, also advocated a more varied response to feeding a growing population, including diversification of farms and diets, more conservation schemes on farms, reforming subsidies which encouraged unsustainable agriculture, and promoting more healthy diets. The report, under an organisation called the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, was signed off by 58 countries including the UK, though the US, Australia and Canada only accepted part of the findings.
The FAO report, World Agriculture towards 2030/2050 says world food production growth would be principally driven by rising populations, and trends towards eating more calories and more meat and dairy products, especially in developing countries. As a result, the FAO forecast an average 1.5% a year growth in agricultural production by value from 1990 to 2030, and then 0.9% a year for the following two decades to 2050.