Food and drink

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People With Eating Disorders ‘Struggling’ as Cost of Living Crisis Batters Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/09/2022 - 8:57pm in

The choice between heating and eating will have a big impact on those suffering from an eating disorder, warns Emily Chundy

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In the month of April this year, 4.6 million adults reported not eating despite being hungry because they couldn’t afford or get access to food.

The cost of living crisis this year has driven thousands to hunger, and with energy bills, rent, and basic necessities growing more unaffordable – and the news that inflation could reach an alarming 13% in October – this situation is only going to get bleaker.

For people with or recovering from eating disorders, however, not being able to afford a full range of nutritious food, treats, and healthy portions is more than unjust. It’s their worst nightmare.

Around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder at any one time, according to the charity Beat, though this figure is thought to have increased among young people over the COVID-19 pandemic, and many more will have a difficult relationship with food, or be in the stages of recovery.

The most well-known eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, with common characteristics being a disordered outlook on food, body image and health. Therapy, nutritional advice, and a specialist diet may be part of many people’s recovery. However, private therapy and a wide range of nutritious food come at a cost, which more and more are saying they can’t afford.

“The cost of living crisis can feel like another excuse not to challenge your eating disorder,” Katie, a 31-year-old woman from London, told Byline Times.

“I was previously lucky enough to have some private therapy for my anorexia, after I reached the end of my NHS-allocated sessions, but was still struggling.

“I had saved up during the various lockdowns and found it helpful… But it is looking increasingly unlikely [that I can start therapy again] as most of my money is going to have to go on bills.”

Katie added that the cost of living crisis is affecting her recovery in numerous ways, from affording therapy, to having to find groceries in different shops, to keeping warm (cold weather can be very uncomfortable for those who are under-nourished) as heating becomes increasingly expensive.

“Recovery meal plans often involve a wide variety of foods, in quite large amounts, and this can be expensive,” she added.

“I am in a very privileged position compared to some people with eating disorders, who may be unable to work because of their illness and dependent on Universal Credit or PIP payments. Some may be struggling to afford basic food or travel to get to appointments. It’s incredibly sad.”

While the majority of people can still afford basic necessities including food, the current economic state means that even those who are managing financially are finding themselves having to dissect their budgets, create meal plans, and cut down on treats.

Valorie told Byline Times that she has found that the act of making meal plans and strictly budgeting for food – rather than feeling free to buy whatever she feels like eating – has been difficult for her and that monitoring the food she buys “somehow always devolves into old disordered eating habits”.

Though meal planning and budgeting are often seen as a good way to save on food, Valorie said for some people with eating disorders, meal planning can be “strongly tied to calorie counting”, and that the cost of living crisis has taken the freedom away from food shopping, instead provoking feelings of “guilt for spending money on food”.

She added: “My eating disorder isn’t really a problem most days, it’s mainly present in times of high stress.

“So the fact that grocery money triggered some weird feelings for the first time in years came as a bit of a surprise.”

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As well as the cost-of-living crisis exacerbating symptoms for those with existing eating disorders, evidence shows that the food insecurity some Brits are facing – including limiting meals to save money, or anxiety about the cost of groceries – could in itself lead to a disordered relationship with food.

In this sense, as more people face food insecurity due to bills increasing and inflation rising, the number of people experiencing disordered eating could actually grow, at a time when it is taking the NHS longer than ever to refer eating disorder patients for treatment due to spending cuts.

Katie added: “One of the biggest issues facing people with eating disorders is the lack of access to eating disorder services, especially services with adults… I hope the new Government commits to improving funding for eating disorder services across the board and quickly.”

She added that bringing back the £20 uplift in Universal Credit that was made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, or even considering “a small amount of food being available on prescription for people with eating disorder” could help to prevent those on lower incomes from being triggered into an eating disorder, or could help aid their recovery.

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, said: “We’re concerned that the cost of living crisis could have a significant impact on people with eating disorders. For instance, we know that financial difficulties can heighten anxiety and distress, which could worsen an existing eating disorder or contribute to one developing for somebody who is already vulnerable.

“Food insecurity may mean that people are unable to eat regularly, which can contribute to harmful thoughts or behaviours for somebody with an eating disorder… There is also a risk that people are unable to access the specific foods needed for their meal plan, which risks disrupting their nutritional recovery.”

He added: “The Government must do all it can to support those struggling, including those affected by eating disorders. We have already seen the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Beat providing three times as many support sessions between 2021-22 in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.

“The Government must invest in eating disorder services, and work closely with professionals and experts to ensure policies are in place to support those with eating disorders.”

The new Government has indicated that it will help with the cost of living crisis by capping the price of energy for households and businesses.

The cost-of-living crisis affects more than just energy bills, however, and over the coming months, the Government must prioritise not only ensuring that Brits never have to choose between eating and heating but allowing people to have the financial freedom to feel joy with every meal, rather than feeling guilt over yet another rising bill.

The Department for Health and Social Care was contacted for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Names have been changed at the request of interviewees

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The Food Crisis is Only Just Beginning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/09/2022 - 1:58am in

Patrick Galey takes a deep dive into why the global food crisis prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a sign of things to come

Three years ago, a United Nations science panel released a special assessment on land use and climate change. As with all UN climate reviews, it was highly technical and filled with caveats, dedicating chapters to subjects such as desertification, habitat degradation and sustainable development.

But lurking within the 1,300-page assessment was a stark warning: the food we need to survive is under threat and so is nearly everything we use to produce it.

Carbon pollution from human activity is already impacting crop and livestock production through “increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events,” it said. 

As temperatures continue to rise this century in step with the global population, the assessment predicted lower yields, decreased nutrient content and greater harvest failures of staple crops, increased food losses due to pests and invasive species, and sky-rocketing grain prices. 

“Given increasing extreme events and interconnectedness, risks of food system disruptions are growing,” it found.

In the three years since this warning, the pandemic ravaged economies, plunging millions of people into poverty. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent the cost of basic foodstuffs soaring and stoked fears of a hunger crisis.

The World Food Programme says that as many as 323 million people will face acute food security this year. Forty-four million are at emergency levels of hunger and some 750,000 are currently experiencing what the UN classifies as a food catastrophe, the highest number in more than a decade.

Globally, some 821 million people are under-nourished and more than 150 million children are stunted due to a lack of nutrition.

The hoped-for resumption of some grain exports from Ukraine’s blockaded Black Sea ports has eased short-term concerns for importing nations. But experts fear that the pandemic and Ukraine have exposed the underlying frailty of the global food system as climate change withers staple crops and inflation spirals out of control

“The food system is broken,” said Fatima Denton, director of the Institute of Natural Resource for Africa and an author of the 2019 UN report. “This is a huge emergency that has already landed on most of our doorsteps, and one which we need to find a rapid solution to.”

Warning Signs

The war in Ukraine catapulted food security into public and government focus. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned in June of an “unprecedented world hunger crisis”, adding there was a risk of “multiple famines” this year.

Putin’s war plunged several countries into food insecurity almost overnight, particularly those across the Middle East and north Africa heavily reliant on wheat and sunflower oil imports from Ukraine and Russia.

But the warning lights were flashing well before.

After the pandemic squeezed transportation routes and sent shipping costs soaring, the prices of wheat, maize, and soy at the beginning of 2022 were already at multi-year highs.

Daniel Maxwell, a professor in food security at Tufts University, said that the world had been approaching several “critical points” in food prices for months if not years. “Global food prices were already at the level of more or less the level of 2011 which was when we had the famine in Somalia,” he said. 

Maxwell said that the last time wheat was as expensive as it was in February 2022 was just before the Arab Spring, when governments across the MENA region were toppled by mass protests.

The World Food Programme says that conflicts since 2009, including in Syria and Yemen, as well as exceptional droughts across the Horn of Africa, Central Asia and Central America, means the world is less able to cope with food price spikes than a decade ago. “Incomes are still depressed, labour markets are still struggling to recover, and debt is at record levels,” a spokesman said.

Gerald Theis, chairman of CEREMED France, a leading grain trader, said that cereal price inflation was a concern long before Russia’s invasion. “Basically it started more than three years ago with COVID,” he recently told a food security conference. “We started to see some protectionist behaviour, mainly with China, who started to buy grain massively – especially corn – in order to cap domestic meat price inflation.”

China is the world’s largest wheat producer but most of its grain imports – some 28 million tonnes of maize in 2021, more than Ukraine exports in a typical year – go to feed its pig herds. 

Although the world produced a record wheat crop in 2021, extended dry periods are now hampering major wheat producers’ ability to step in and cover the export shortfall from Ukraine and Russia. 

China’s Agriculture Minister warned back in March that this year’s crop was likely to be the “worst in history” following lower than average rainfall. After an unprecedented heatwave, last month Beijing warned its autumn harvest was now under “severe threat”. 

In May, India, the world’s second-largest producer, banned nearly all wheat exports following a record-shattering heatwave across its northern breadbasket. 

Nearly 70% of US wheat growing areas are experiencing drought, with the Department of Agriculture classifying just 32% of this year’s crop as “good condition” – the lowest since 1991.

In a recent crop bulletin, the department warned how the drought was “depleting topsoil moisture and significantly stressing rangeland, pastures, and various summer crops".

Major European exporters France and Germany have both warned their 2022 harvest will be several million tonnes lower than forecast as northern Europe struggles with a persistent drought that the European Commission now believes is the worst in the last 500 years.

Shouro Dasgupta, environmental economist at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change, said that drought was one of the most “critical climate stressors” impacting global food supply. 

“We are seeing the intensity and frequency of droughts due to climate change,” he said. “They affect crop yields, but at the same time there is a direct impact on labour. "Unless we see drought-resistant crops scaled up then the problems we are seeing now are going to seem small by comparison in future."

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Resource (Mis)use

Going by the numbers, the last six decades mark a food success story unprecedented in human history. Food production has more than tripled since 1960 and food supply per capita, even with a surging population, has grown 30%. But this boom has come at a cost. 

Food production and transportation now account for as much as 37% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. A recent UN biodiversity assessment found that one-third of Earth’s land surface is dedicated to farming, as is three-quarters of freshwater supply. 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the use of nitrogen fertilisers has soared 800% since the early 1960s. As well as degrading the quality of freshwater, nitrogen fertilisers rely on natural gas for their production, leading to more warming. 

And our reliance on them is putting even further pressure on food supply. 

Russia is the world’s top producer, and its invasion of Ukraine sent prices soaring even after hitting close to all-time highs last December. 

Steve Mathews, senior vice president at the Gro Intelligence food security monitor, said the disruption in fertiliser supply from Russia, as well as from Belarus, would have “multi-year effects on food security globally”.  

“Even if everything gets resolved today it’s not clear that we will recover to prevent a slow-moving disaster,” he added.

Mathews estimated that an additional five million people would go hungry each day due to disruptions in fertiliser supply.

Wheat, which makes up 20% of the world’s daily calories, is especially fertiliser-intensive, as it uses up soil nutrients such as phosphorus which aren’t easy to replace naturally. 

Fergus Sinclair, chief scientist at the CIFOR-ICRAF climate and biodiversity research institute, said that food security in several nations – including major producers – was directly linked to fertiliser supply.

“We can see that a lot of countries think they've got a high food security because they're producing a lot in their own country, based on the import of fertilisers and pesticides that might require foreign exchange to purchase,” he said. “It means that they don't have much food security at all.” 

At the same time, an over-reliance on just a handful of staple crop varieties makes it much harder for the global food system to adjust to unexpected crises. 

“The big emphasis on crop breeding over the last century has been around a very few staple crops and breeding them for monoculture,” said Sinclair. “There are some quite big issues about the way we organize our entire society that create quite major stresses for an agricultural system.”

An additional stressor to food supply is just how many crops are grown that don’t end up on human plates. As much as 80% of all agricultural land is either used to rear or feed animals, and 4% is used for biofuels

Mathews calculated that the amount of energy contained within the corn and soy products that go to either feed animals or make biofuels would be enough to provide an additional 1.9 billion daily meals for humans.

Choke Points

For many observers, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine exposed several weaknesses in the global food chain. 

Supply lines have been stripped back over the decades to accommodate the “just-in-time” delivery of goods expected of modern consumers, making them more efficient but simultaneously more vulnerable to shocks.

Mathews said that the blockage of Ukraine and Russia’s Black Sea ports, as well as south-east Asian sea hubs being saddled with delays due to draconian Coronavirus measures in China, were all combining to exacerbate shortages in food-importing nations. “So while there is a sufficient supply of calories in the world to take care of everyone, the notion that we can get them where they need to be quickly enough seems doubtful,” he said. 

Around half of all calories travel via ship. This has added to the upward pressure on food prices – a shipping container now costs roughly eight times what it did before COVID. But it also adds to food supply fragility. 

A recent study simulated the effects of disruption at each of the world’s major shipping choke points, such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez and Panama canals. It found that any holdups would lead to “significant shortages for food importers”.

Moreover, the transport of staple grains is largely controlled by a handful of distributors. One recent estimate found that up to 90% of global grain distribution is provided by just four private firms. 

Keely Croxton, professor of logistics at The Ohio State University, said that company consolidation had contributed to making the food chain “brittle”.

“There’s a small number of companies controlling a large portion of the flow of goods," she said. "It limits innovation, limits problem solving, you don’t have the competition on price. A small disruption causes a bigger problem because we don’t have back up locations to flow product through.”

Extreme weather also poses an immediate risk to food supply, with import and export nexuses increasingly vulnerable. 

Last year, a cyclone shut China’s Yantian Port – a major continental hub – causing a major shipping bottleneck. Also in 2021, Hurricane Ida struck the US Gulf coast, sending soybean exports tumbling 96 percent. The storm also forced plants producing ammonia – a key fertiliser component – to shut down.

“Climate change is going to be already increasingly putting added stress on infrastructure and the value chain in general,” said Dasgupta. “It is constraining the food system's ability to expand in directions that you need it to.”

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Worse to Come 

As the first Russian troops were marching into Ukraine in late February, the UN issued its latest review of the current and future impacts from climate change.

It predicted that extreme events such as heatwaves and drought will make up to 10% of current crop and livestock rearing areas “climatically unsuitable” by mid-century. Under the current carbon emissions trajectory, this will apply to a third of all arable land by 2100. 

In a scenario of strong population growth and limited climate change mitigation, up to 183 million more people in low-income countries will be under-nourished within the next 30 years, the assessment showed. 

At 2°C of warming above pre-industrial levels – the cap aimed for under the Paris Climate Agreement – up to three billion people will experience chronic water scarcity, increasing competition for dwindling resources, it said.

“For as long as humans have existed most conflicts were caused by water security and food security,” said Dasgupta, who co-wrote chapter five. “Increasingly, with climate change, these impacts are going to be showing up in conflicts.”

Because a warmer climate will increase the geographic spread of pests and invasive species, such as the locust swarms that devastated east African cereal crops last year, pesticide use is predicted to grow, accelerating soil degradation even while the chemicals lose their efficiency, the UN assessment found.

Around 35% of all food is pollinated by insects and birds, and pollinator populations are already being decimated by pesticides and higher temperatures, with up to 50% of insects likely to have their range reduced by half this century.

Studies have shown that crops grown in conditions with higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations contain fewer vital micronutrients, and increasing carbon pollution is projected to lower nutritional quality of wheat, and other staples.

Hotter temperatures also quicken the rate of food loss as crops spoil faster. They also increase the likelihood of rolling blackouts that render refrigeration systems unusable. 

“Together, these impacts threaten to reduce the supply of varied, nutrient-rich foods to poor populations that already suffer ill health,” the report said.

Longer-term, the assessment highlighted some potentially irreversible threats to food supply. These include coastal erosion made worse by rising sea levels, in which arable land is simply consumed by the ocean. Extreme soil erosion and degradation due to flooding and excessive fertiliser use could render huge swathes of land barren for generations to come.  

“In some situations, exceeding the limits of adaptation can trigger escalating losses or result in undesirable transformational changes... such as forced migration, conflicts or poverty,” it said. 

Elizabeth Robinson, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said that the protectionist measures taken by countries in the wake of the pandemic would multiply as climate shocks impact domestic food supply.

“Climate change is just going to make it that much worse. It can be enough to lead to the amplification rather than dampening of potential systemic risks,” she said. "This idea that the markets will equilibrate where food is. It's not obvious, I think, with climate change, whether that's going to hold.”

Solutions Exist, But Need Implementing

A major driver of food insecurity and greenhouse gas emissions is food loss – that is, food that is grown but which never makes it to market – and food waste – food that is purchased but ultimately thrown away. 

The IPCC land use report found that up to 30% of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted, costing at least $1 trillion annually. Were it a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest emitter on the planet

As countries wait ever longer for food imports to arrive, Mathews, from Gro Intelligence, said food loss in 2022 is likely to be exceptionally high. 

“One of the things we’re discussing now in order to make up for the loss of Ukraine’s crop is moving food over larger distances,” he said. “And that is one of the best ways to guarantee a lot of waste.”

Then there’s the issue of meat. A global switch to plant-based diets would for example save up to 11 million lives by 2050, while going vegan could reduce food system greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70%.

Moreover, eating less meat would mean more farmland to grow more crops and feed more people. One 2017 study showed that substituting beans for beef in US diets alone would free up 42% of all arable land.

“More land is used to feed livestock than it is to feed humans,” said Teresa Anderson, climate justice lead at the ActionAid charity. “It's an incredibly inefficient use of land in an era where we're trying to make sure we can feed humanity in the face of climate change.”

There are a number of farming techniques that can also alleviate the need for fertiliser and water. Agroforestry, the process of combining trees with livestock and/or plants, is currently practiced by some 1.2 billion people globally, mainly among smallholders. 

“Trees themselves produce food, but they also help to maintain soil health, fix nitrogen, tighten nutrient and water cycles and reduce the need for pesticides,” said Sinclair, an expert on the practice.

There are also technological fixes already on the market – such as agrovoltaics, which combines cropland with solar panel installations – that could help shore up food supply while reducing the agricultural industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

In 2009, wealthy countries promised to provide $100 billion annually to help vulnerable states adapt to the impacts of climate change, including in the agriculture sector. This has still not materialised

“For many countries in the global south, agriculture is also the backbone of the economy,” said Anderson. "So if climate disasters are driving farmers off the land on a large scale that will have major implications for our country's overall economic stability.

"That’s why we need the wealthy, industrialised polluting countries in the Global North who have done the most to cause the climate crisis to recognise that responsibility to help.”

African nations, for example, spend a huge percentage of their agricultural budgets on fertiliser, which drains funds away from training farmers to adopt more sustainable practices or to grow more varied crops. 

“The continent of Africa has the potential to feed itself but it is spending over $3 billion annually on food imports,” said Denton. 

With resumed Ukrainian grain exports and food price rises appearing to plateau – albeit much higher than even a year ago – there are signs the current acute food crisis may be set to stabilise in the short-term. 

But Denton wants people to be under no illusion that the type of food shocks witnessed now will, without a total transformation in the food chain, become commonplace in future. 

“This is a microcosm of the wider vulnerability that we face,” she said. “It's almost as if we need some kind of shock therapy to get out of this complacency and this feeling that we can just continue doing business as usual and all will be fine. Because all this tells us that our food supply systems have huge problems.”

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Conservative Cost of Living Inertia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/07/2022 - 9:39pm in

The absence of credible solutions to the economic crisis is one of the most galling features of the Tory leadership contest, says James Meadway

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On 5 September, the Conservative Party expects to announce its new leader and the new UK Prime Minister. Weeks later, Ofgem, the regulator of the privatised domestic energy market, is expected to impose a 64% increase on the price of gas and electricity bills, taking the average household bill to £3,200. This extraordinary increase, arriving just as summer fades and the days become colder, comes on top of successive hikes in the prices of essential foods and the motor-fuel millions rely on for their transport.

The squeeze on living standards this year has been merciless – sharper than anything in living memory. Even the high-inflation 1970s actually delivered increasing real incomes, as stronger trade unions and collective bargaining consistently secured inflation-beating pay-rises.

The closest parallel for a squeeze on households’ purchasing power of this kind is the early years of the Industrial Revolution – in the so-called Engels’ Pause. And while the price squeeze is apparent across the world, sparking riots and even the overthrow of the Sri Lankan Government, among major developed economies Britain is one of the hardest hit, as the historically low wages and Brexit chaos add to the misery.

Consistently – and understandably – voters think this cost of living crisis as the most important single issue they face. The “terror/fury” of participants in a Rother Valley focus group when asked about their immediate economic future, reported on by BBC Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall, is mirrored up and down the country.

The closest parallel for a squeeze on households’ purchasing power of this kind is the early years of the Industrial Revolution

None of this is set to improve: the Bank of England cautiously estimates 11% or perhaps higher inflation before the end of the year. Further rounds of sanctions against Russian oil, scheduled to kick in by January, could provoke further price spikes. Extreme weather across the world is damaging harvests and threatening supply chains.

It is possible that inflation starts to subside somewhat as we enter the new year. Yet it is unlikely to return rapidly to the (currently rather laughable) 2% target the Bank of England claims to aim for. And the Bank’s solitary weapon to fight this surge in prices – jacking up UK interest rates – is, as even Governor Andrew Bailey admits, at best useless against price rises arriving from the rest of the world. At worst, it is simply another turn of the screw on households, threatening an economic downturn.

A recession was narrowly avoided this month, thanks to a 15% rise in GP visits making a positive contribution to what the Office for National Statistics records as national output.

Whoever emerges from the knife-fight of the Conservative leadership election campaign will find their triumph incredibly short-lived. Before they have even had chance to choose the wallpaper, the new occupant of Number 10 will be faced with a series of hard economic decisions: over funding for the NHS’ winter crisis, over the shortages of teachers and, above all, in the dramatic loss of purchasing power that is already provoking strikes and protests.

Yet the scale of the crisis barely registers with the Tory contenders. From outside Westminster, the unreality of the contest is like peering at the world through a fish-eye lens. Distant concerns, issues that scarcely register with most voters like the alleged problem of ‘trans orthodoxy’ are brought leeringly close. Immediate, dramatic problems like the cost of living crisis and climate change are meanwhile pushed off the radar.

The only candidates to directly address the energy price hike have been eliminated. Sajid Javid, who was removed even before voting began, offered £5 billion for “cutting energy bills”. This is a long way short of the £28 billion the forecasted price hike will cost households, but it is, at least, more than nothing at all. Suella Braverman, meanwhile, hinted at a “VAT cut” for “energy costs”, presumably photocopying Labour’s policy, although untroubled by detail or costings. She, too, has now exited the contest.

Otherwise, the problem of high and rising prices for essentials has been transformed by all the candidates into a problem of taxes on motor fuel. This is at least a genuine problem, with petrol prices having risen 70% since last summer. Penny Mordaunt has the biggest single pledge, arguing for a 50% cut to VAT on petrol and diesel, amounting to around 12p off a litre of petrol. It has won her the support of Howard Cox, of the FairFuelUK tax protestors. But because oil prices have risen so much, it is equivalent to only three weeks’ worth of price increases this year. And with global prices forecast to rise still further, it’s likely to be wiped out by the year’s end.

The Elephant in the Room

But the real culprit behind fuel price increases are the profits of the oil giants, with BP and Shell between them having made £40 billion in profits over the last year. As a result, cuts to the taxes due on petrol and diesel act as little more than a subsidy from government for those profits. Of course, none of these duty changes has any impact on the (generally poorer) one in five people who live in a household without a car.

Those excess profits have, of course, never been mentioned by the leadership candidates. Far more common have been pledges to shovel more cash back into the hands of corporate shareholders and senior managers, with various also-ran candidates attempting to outbid each other on the biggest pledged cut – a contest won by Jeremy Hunt, who promised to slash the headline rate of corporation tax from a planned 25% down to 15%, at a likely cost of around £26 billion.

Notably, however, the candidates with the biggest explicit pledges on corporation tax cuts – Hunt, Braverman, Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, and Grant Shapps – are no longer in the contest. Those left have been far quieter, while pledging, as all senior Tories must, to cut taxes in the future – just perhaps not yet. The shadow of Boris Johnson’s bigger state, higher taxes ethos still hangs over the party, and will do for some time. 

Intriguingly, although out of all of the remaining candidates she has been perhaps the least associated with Johnson, it is Penny Mordaunt who comes closest to maintaining his economic legacy. Her launch article in The Telegraph was careful to distance herself from the competition currently howling at the moon about tax cuts, stressing that “economic reform” is more important. Mordaunt (like all the other remaining candidates, bar Kemi Badenoch) has pledged to maintain the commitment to Net Zero, highlighting the potential for three million green jobs by the end of the decade. She promises more investment in infrastructure and science – key Johnson pledges, somewhat delivered.

There’s a hard political calculation behind this, and it’s one persistently underestimated in accounts of Johnson’s Government, which tend to fixate on the personality of its head, his personal foibles, and his many and varied inadequacies. But the coalition Johnson glommed together in 2019, centred (of course) on delivering Brexit but – crucially – noisily promising both an end to austerity and what he came to call ‘Levelling Up’ investment – centred on the big opportunities created by falling renewables costs and a global push for decarbonisation.

In the northeast of England especially, where the Conservatives have spent significant political and actual capital, this strategy is paying dividends, returning a thumping majority in the Darlington by-election, and an astonishing 85% vote for Teesside Mayor Ben Houchen.

A Conservative leader who managed to hold together this fragile 2019 coalition, offering just enough culture war to keep GB News happy, just enough higher rate tax cuts for the Tory heartlands, and just enough in the way of jobs and devolution for the ‘Red Wall’, may well get to the next general election in reasonable shape.

But the election is likely now to be two years away. We have a miserable winter to get through, and the likelihood of only limited respite from inflation next year. Johnson’s grand plans have amounted to very little in reality. It is not obvious that his replacement, thrown into a deep and worsening economic crisis, lacking the will or the inclination to challenge the super-profits and vested interests driving higher prices, quite likely facing actual social unrest, will do any better.

James Meadway is a former advisor to the former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP and former chief economist at the New Economics Foundation

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These are the Most Effective Things You Can Do to Fight Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/07/2022 - 12:00am in

Climate researcher Max Callaghan explains how we can each help the effort to halt rising global temperatures

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Limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels requires reaching net zero emissions by the middle of this century. This means that, in less than three decades, we need to reverse more than a century of rising emissions and bring annual emissions down to near zero, while balancing out all remaining unavoidable emissions by actively removing carbon from the atmosphere.

To help speed this process as individuals, we’ve got to do everything we can to cut down our use of fossil fuels. But many people aren’t aware of the most effective ways to do this. Thankfully, the latest report by the UN climate change panel IPCC devotes a chapter to all the ways in which changes in people’s behaviour can accelerate the transition to net zero.

The chapter includes an analysis of 60 individual actions which can help fight climate change, building on research led by Diana Ivanova at the University of Leeds – and to which I contributed. We grouped these actions into three areas: avoiding consumption, shifting consumption and improving consumption (making it more efficient).

What to Avoid

By far the most effective things to avoid involve transport. Living without a car reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tonnes of CO₂ emissions per person per year, while avoiding a single long distance return flight cuts emissions by an average of 1.9 tonnes. That’s equivalent to driving a typical EU car more than 16,000km from Hamburg, Germany to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and back.

Since the vast majority of the world’s population do not fly at all – and of those who do, only a small percentage fly frequently – fliers can make very substantial reductions to their carbon footprints with each flight they avoid.

What to Shift

But living sustainably is not just about giving things up. Large reductions in emissions can be achieved by shifting to a different way of doing things. Because driving is so polluting, for example, shifting to public transport, walking or cycling can make an enormous change, with added benefits for your personal health and local air pollution levels.

Likewise, because of the high emissions associated with meat and dairy – particularly those produced by farming sheep and cows – shifting towards more sustainable diets can substantially reduce your carbon footprint. A totally vegan diet is the most effective way to do this, but sizeable savings can be made simply by switching from beef and lamb to pork and chicken.

What to Improve

Finally, the things we do already could be made more efficient by improving carbon efficiency at home: for example by using insulation and heat pumps, or producing your own renewable energy by installing solar panels. Switching from a combustion car to an electric one – ideally a battery EV, which generates much larger reductions in emissions than hybrid or fuel cell EVs – will make your car journeys more efficient. Plus, its effect on emissions will increase as time goes by and the amount of electricity generated by renewables grows.

In the race to net zero, every tonne of CO₂ counts. If more of us take even a few of these suggestions into account, we’re collectively more likely to be able to achieve the ambitious goals set out in the Paris climate agreement. Of course, these changes will need to be backed by major political action on sustainability at the same time.

If we’re to use less fossil fuel energy, the use of fossil fuels needs to be either restricted or made more expensive. The social consequences of this need to be carefully managed so that carbon pricing schemes can benefit people on lower incomes: which can happen if revenues are redistributed to take the financial burden off poorer households.

But there’s a whole lot more that governments could do to help people to live more sustainably, such as providing better, safer public transport and ‘active travel’ infrastructure (such as bike lanes and pedestrian zones) so that people have alternatives to driving and flying.

There’s no avoiding the fact that if political solutions are to address climate change with the urgency our global situation requires, these solutions will limit the extent to which we can indulge in carbon-intensive behaviours. More than anything, we must vote into power those prepared to make such tough decisions for the sake of our planet’s future.

Max Callaghan is a PhD student at the University of Leeds and this article was first published by The Conservation

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How Replacing Animal Farming with Microbial Proteins Could Feed the World and Save the Planet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

As the prevailing global food system heads toward disaster, scientists are discovering exciting opportunities that could make nutritious food cheap, clean and abundant for all without hurting the planet. Nafeez Ahmed reports

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The world is currently moving – as predicted by a number of scientific models – into an era of water, energy and food scarcity that could unravel the sinews of civilisation.

In part one of my exploration of this, I posited how a ‘global polycrisis’ – caused by climate-induced droughts in Asia, the Russia-Ukraine crisis and an intensifying global food crisis – could accelerate the "irreversible decline" of the Earth's key natural and social systems.

I also explained how these very symptoms of decline also point to signals of hope – because disruptions to the existing food system could spur its transformation.

New scientific research confirms that the spectre of looming scarcity, far from being an innate and inevitable feature of nature, is instead a symptom of the constraints of the existing global system. It suggests we now have a range of powerful tools to create a global food system that, not only feeds everyone on the planet, but does so without pillaging the Earth.

A Key Solution: The Protein Revolution

The global food crisis could be eased by precision fermentation and cellular agriculture (PFCA) – technologies enabling the cheap, sustainable and efficient production of animal proteins without killing animals.

When powered by solar electricity, for instance, microbial protein production can be vastly more efficient than conventional industrial agriculture with minimal environmental impact.

It could, for instance, produce five times more soya beans per hectare than plants even in a country with low sunlight like the UK – and up to 10 times more in better conditions.

Microbial proteins are proteins produced by micro-organisms via fermentation. Precision fermentation allow these micro-organisms to be programmed to produce complex organic molecules such as proteins, with cellular agriculture permitting the production of specific animal proteins.

Two landmark studies released last month show how PFCA can play a fundamental role in transforming our global food systems.

A study published in Nature found that, if only 20% of beef production was displaced by microbial protein, it would slash annual deforestation and related carbon dioxide emissions by half, while also lowering methane emissions. If half of beef production was replaced, this would cut deforestation by 82%. But the study only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Another team of scientists have found that a “closed-loop microbial production” system would be able to globally replace livestock industries, while dramatically eliminating negative environmental consequences.

Although the study focuses on mycoprotein (created from a naturally-occurring fungus), its lead author Alex Durkin of Imperial College Centre for Process Systems Engineering, told Byline Times that its findings are “supposed to represent microbial proteins generally” – including from PFCA.

That’s because all these approaches to protein production share the common features of “production in controlled environments, no dependence on animals, and more efficient land and crop utility”.

Impact reductions from the livestock industries, the study found, would decline “by 96%, 99%, 74% and 85% on climate change, land occupation, nitrogen fixation and freshwater consumption, respectively”.

So scaling up microbial production at the global level will not breach planetary boundaries, the study concludes.

And due to the nature of these technologies, the applications are diverse. The study points out that, with its shorter, cleaner production cycles – using a tiny fraction of the water, land and fertiliser of conventional industrial food production – “microbial protein can be harnessed to provide readily scalable protein security with vastly reduced environmental impacts, particularly beneficial for emergent nations where the increase in animal-sourced protein demand is expected to soar in response to socio-economic development”.

With such a small land footprint, it can also be scaled-up in “urban areas and countries which face arable land scarcity and depend largely on food imports” – which includes many countries in the Middle East and North Africa at risk of instability in the current crisis.

With no exposure to livestock diseases, microbial proteins can enable “sustained protein production through extreme events e.g. pandemic”.

Cascading Consequences

Perhaps the most exciting thing about these technologies is that they aren’t far-fetched breakthroughs of the future – PFCA exists now and is scaling today driven by fundamental economics.

As technology forecasting think tank RethinkX showed in 2019, cost curve projections show that it will become cost-competitive with bulk animal protein in a few years – five times cheaper by 2030, and 10 times cheaper by 2035.

Eventually it will approach the cost of sugar. And, because it’s so water, land and energy efficient, it will enable us to produce orders of magnitude more food than we do today within planetary boundaries, at a tenth of the cost. Food would never be cheaper.

This also means that conventional livestock industries are going to be economically eviscerated within about a decade. We might be able to delay or accelerate that process, but the fundamental economics of this mean this process cannot ultimately be stopped because animal farming will simply be outcompeted by superior technologies.

This could open up further huge opportunities. We would not only wipe out carbon emissions from livestock agriculture, we would free up 2.7 billion hectares of land for rewilding, reforestation, alternative farming techniques, and carbon sequestration. 

Such a rapid phase-out of animal agriculture would, in turn, stabilise greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68% of CO2 emissions this century. But we don’t need to stop there. By giving that freed up land back to nature in a managed way, we could use it to get more and more carbon out of the atmosphere in a way that is regenerative.

The implications are tremendous: we could enter a new era of clean, food abundance, and – through the same process – help solve some of our biggest ecological challenges.

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Total Transformation

In his new book, Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet, renowned Guardian environment writer George Monbiot shows how a larger, system change – driven by leveraging technology disruptions – can make other regenerative agriculture solutions more feasible. Together, this would lead to a total transformation of the food system.

His book explains that the global food crisis is not just about climate change, but about the entire structure of conventional industrial agriculture – which operates in an extraction paradigm that is relentlessly degrading our soils.

With the colossal dependence of our industrial systems on fossil fuels, the addition of climate impacts into this picture is magnifying the risks of a ‘global polycrisis’ before our eyes. Nothing less than total transformation will allow us to evade the implications.

To the extent that the PFCA disruption has already begun – and will accelerate due to economic factors – the foundations of change are already here. They are being driven by markets, technology and economics.

In Monbiot’s vision, if we leverage these factors by ending subsidies for livestock farming, removing barriers to PFCA proteins, and so on, we can move faster to a final food system transformation. We could harness the best of these technologies alongside the most exciting regenerative farming techniques, in a new model of build-up and creation: producing abundant nutritious food, restoring our soils, stabilising our ecosystems and rewilding our lands.

PFCA protein hubs can be installed almost anywhere, run locally on clean electricity, and with 100 times more land efficiency, up to 25 times more feedstock efficiency, and 10 times more water efficiency.

We should not under-estimate what this opportunity entails. For the first time, we could feed everyone without breaching planetary boundaries in a new paradigm of ‘Food-as-Software’.

But the current crisis also reveals the stark dangers if we delay. We could end up being sucked into the vortex of a prevailing global food system that crumbles under its own weight before these disruptive technologies are able to accelerate the transformation we so desperately need.

In part one of my exploration, I set out the grim prospect of a decade of intensifying global thirst and hunger. But we need to see that prospect for what it is: a symptom of the demise of the old, extraction age food system. As this crisis deepens, we must remember that opening up before us is the unprecedented opportunity to create an entirely new creation-based food system – a paradigm that could empower us to solve global hunger within planetary boundaries.

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UK’s Ability to Deal With Animal Disease Pandemics Compromised Due to Lack of Investment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 9:02am in

David Hencke has the details of a shocking new report showing how a flagship science laboratory needs a multi-billion-pound refurb

The UK may not be able to cope with a major animal disease pandemic because of the crumbling state of the country’s main science laboratory, the National Audit Office (NAO) warns in a report published today.

It says that the laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, needs a £2.8 billion rehaul after more than 20 years of neglect.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), is responsible for tackling animal disease outbreaks, undertaking long-term research and certifying and inspecting the plants and animals imported by the UK.

The disclosure of the state of its main laboratories comes as the Government has indicated that it wants to depart from the EU’s high food standards, while cooperation on advance disease warnings between the EU and the UK has broken down following Brexit.

As reported by Byline Times last month, the Food Standards Agency, a sister DEFRA body, has lost full access to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, which it used to exchange information about food safety risks and responses across the EU.

MPs now say that “officials are fumbling in the dark.”

The NAO report says the Weybridge site contains 98% of the country’s high containment laboratories. It is the only facility equipped to deal with most zoonotic diseases – which were thought to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report says that DEFRA estimated in 2019 that the decline of the state of buildings at Weybridge could lead to a total loss of capability within the next five to 10 years. “This would leave the UK vulnerable to future animal disease outbreaks,” it says.

“There have also been instances of core facilities breaking down and buildings unfit to be used,” the report adds. “Some buildings are only usable because APHA has obtained exemptions from HSE [Health and Safety Executive] from certain containment and control measures” to continue work there.

Investment in the labs was halted in 2008 after the global financial crisis and money has only subsequently been spent on the labs on a ‘patch and repair’ basis.

By 2017, the department tried to quantify how much money would be needed to rebuild the laboratories and bring the site up to modern standards. Its first estimate of £1.2 billion proved to be woefully inadequate and has now been increased to £2.8 billion.

The Treasury is yet to approve the final plans – having agreed to a further £200 million under the patch and repair scheme while accepting the first case estimate of £1.2 billion. It is estimated that it will take 15 years to complete the rebuilding of the centre.

Animal disease outbreaks are hugely expensive for both taxpayers and the private sector. The NAO estimated that the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak would have cost more £12 billion to taxpayers and the private sector at 2021 prices.

“DEFRA has allowed the Weybridge site to deteriorate to a point where major redevelopment is now urgently required. Considering the site’s importance to the UK, it has taken DEFRA a long time to set up a programme to redevelop it,” said Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO.

“The department has recently put in place many of the right measures to manage the redevelopment successfully, but it will need to navigate many risks to deliver a site that can protect the UK against animal disease outbreaks and demonstrate value for taxpayers.”

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “The Weybridge site is a vital part of our national resilience to animal diseases, yet has been left to crumble through years of under-investment. The patch and mend approach to maintenance is poor value in the long run, with money wasted propping up ageing assets.

“It’s yet another example of Government not taking the reins on asset management and simply kicking the can down the road.”

Biosecurity Minister, Lord Richard Benyon said: “We are proud of Weybridge’s long-standing reputation for excellence in science and evidence that safeguards UK biosecurity, as demonstrated by the fact it is the international reference laboratory for a wide range of important pests and diseases.

“It is right that we plan to make significant investments into the site, which is why we have secured £1.4 billion of funding so that we can continue to attract and retain the best scientists to ensure the UK’s protection from this kind of threat for decades to come through world leading facilities.”

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Time to Call Last Orders: Why do Alcohol and Drugs Stalk the Corridors of Power?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 1:58am in

A Parliament with legal and illegal substances being consumed as and when is unfit to uphold standards in public life, says Rachel Morris

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With the UK economy predicted to see less short-term growth than any other G20 country aside from Russia, you would hope that the nation was being governed by experts qualified to steer Britain back on the path to prosperity.

The reality, however, is very different.

In 2019, VICE tested nine secure areas within Parliament for cocaine and found four conclusively positive for traces of the Class A drug. These were in disabled toilets outside The Woolsack bar, two bathrooms outside MPs’ offices, and in the toilets outside the Strangers’ Bar.

Last December, a repeat exercise reported by The Sunday Times found cocaine in 11 out of 12 restricted-access bathrooms tested – including the one nearest to the Prime Minister’s office.

Class A is the most serious drug designation in UK law. Those found in possession of cocaine face up to seven years in prison, while those producing or supplying it risk a life sentence.

House of Commons speakers are best known for their role in shaping how Parliament debates issues and passes legislation, but they are also responsible for maintaining order and ensuring that parliamentary rules are upheld.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle told Sky News on 6 December, after The Sunday Times report, that accounts of drug misuse in Parliament were “deeply concerning” and that he would be “raising them as a priority with the Metropolitan Police”.

Also in December, the Prime Minister announced that he was waging a societal ‘war on drugs’, saying that offenders would have their passports and driving licenses taken away.

In February, the Home Affairs Committee announced an inquiry to examine illegal drug use and its impacts on society.

Whether or not you agree with drug criminalisation, we have a Prime Minister who says that "class A drugs are bad, bad for society, bad for opportunity, bad for kids growing up in this country” – while working in an environment in which they appear to be as much a work perk as is access to cut-price Champagne.

There is not just one spot to enjoy these tipples in Parliament, but several, with no need to venture to Tesco with a suitcase. When it was rebuilt after a fire, Victorian parliamentarians demanded that the building resemble the private members’ clubs to which they belonged.

That most of its libraries, bars and dining rooms are off-limits to the public, despite the public subsidising them, means that this affinity to gentlemen’s clubs remains nearly 200 years on.

At the end of 2021, a pint of Carling cost £3.30 and a Guinness £4.10; soup under a pound; and a three-course meal of soup, steak and parfait less than £13.

Taxpayers cover the subsidisation of food and drink in Parliament to the tune of £57,000 a week. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paul Tyler described the Peers’ Dining Room in the House of Lords as the “best day care centre for the elderly in London”. The taxpayer spent £779,257 to run it last year. All of this during a harsh nationwide cost of living crisis.

A Parliament Incapacitated

Some 10% of MPs were estimated to be alcoholics in the 1980s, and things can’t be said to have improved since.

Easily-available alcohol is linked to the widespread ‘Pestminster’ problem of sexual assault, which is now endemic in the corridors of power.

In 2013, Falkirk MP Eric Joyce was banned from drinking in Parliament after a conviction for headbutting another MP.

A 2020 survey of the drinking patterns of 146 UK MPs found them more likely than those from comparable socio-economic groups to have a drink four or more times a week, to drink 10 or more units of alcohol on a drinking day, and drink six or more units on one occasion. MPs with additional jobs had odds of risky drinking 2.74 times greater than for those without.

More than £200,000 was spent on alcohol in just six parliamentary bars in 2021, despite their closure for around half of the year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A Sunday Times source told of an MP “openly snorting cocaine at a party” and the newspaper reported on rumours of a parliamentarian dealing drugs on-site. It painted a portrait of an entrenched alcohol and drug abuse culture and rampant, serious law-breaking.

Those in Westminster often work unsocial hours and need places to socialise, network or wait to vote. But why is there a necessity for alcohol and drugs to be a staple of parliamentary work? None of this is amenable to a place expected to uphold standards in public life.

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It’s concerning that some making decisions affecting everyone in the country may not be functioning with a clear mind; may be discussing or voting on legislation while incapacitated, or be unable to vote at all.

Short-term risks associated with alcohol consumption include poor judgement, slower reaction times and decision-making; recklessness and a lack of inhibition; and increased risk of violence, anti-social behaviour, accident, injury, and loss of possessions. Long-term risks include serious health problems, family breakdown, domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

Cocaine also carries physical risks, and regular use can make people feel anxious, depressed, run-down, and paranoid. It can bring mental health problems to the surface, and can be an expensive habit causing frequent users to rely on extra income sources.

Parliamentarians and their staff suffer the same personal challenges as any other people; more, perhaps, due to the long hours, responsibilities and isolation that can come with their work. But their workplace has as many watering holes as a mid-sized English town, one of which was reported in 2017 to contain a sign saying: “The code of the man cave – rule #3. What happens here stays here! Violators will be shot – survivors will be shot again”.

Again, there appears to be different rules for them compared to the rest of us. How can citizens be expected to respect laws criminalising drug use when some law-makers or their staff are themselves indulging in them in Parliament?

In the days following the Prime Minister surviving a vote of confidence within his party, there was a surge of interest on social media about drugs and alcohol in Parliament, with some consequently contacting the Speaker for an update.

In response to one such inquiry, the Speaker’s Office said: “Contrary to press reports, no incidents of drug usage have been reported to the parliamentary authorities or, as far as we have been made aware, the Metropolitan Police in the last five years.”

It would appear that, despite it being reported as far afield as The Washington Post, the Speaker has not after all referred Class A drug use in the Palace of Westminster to the Metropolitan Police.

It’s time to call last orders on this hypocritical, lawless, dysfunctional culture being played out on the benches of power.

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The Cost of Brexit: Brits Say EU Exit Drove up Prices, New Poll Finds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 8:10pm in

An exclusive poll for Byline Times finds that seven-in-ten voters believe leaving the EU has made life in the UK more expensive

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Seven-in-ten voters believe that life in the UK has become more expensive because of Brexit, according to an exclusive new poll for Byline Times.

The poll, conducted by pollsters Omnisis, found that 67% of British voters surveyed think that leaving the EU has driven up prices.

Brexit supporters had predicted that leaving the EU would lead to prices dropping in the UK.

Boris Johnson promised that leaving the EU would cause energy prices to fall, while a 2016 report by the right-wing think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs predicted that food costs would also tumble after Brexit.

However, today's poll finds that just 5% of voters surveyed believe that leaving the EU has driven down the cost of living in the UK.

This perception is backed up by an academic study earlier this year, which found that Brexit has in fact increased food prices by 6% across the UK.

The London School of Economics study found that the increase in import costs from the EU had led to a spike in the cost of many common supermarket goods.

"The reason for these price increases is straightforward," the report found, adding that "additional barriers at the border such as checks, increased waiting times, and additional paperwork are costly for producers".

The Byline Times poll also found a clear majority now believe that Brexit has been negative for the UK as a whole.

64% of all those polled said that Brexit had been negative for the country compared to just 36% who said it had been positive.

Around a third – 34% – of former Leave voters agreed that leaving the EU had been negative for the country overall.

The poll also suggests that the UK could vote differently were another referendum to be held on rejoining the EU.

55% of those surveyed said that they would vote to rejoin the European Union on similar terms to which the UK left, compared to 45% who said that they would not.

The internationalist campaign group Best for Britain told Byline Times that the poll showed the public had not been "fooled" by the Government's claims about Brexit and the cost of living.

“While the Chancellor pretends to play Robin Hood, this polling shows voters are not fooled", Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith told Byline Times. "They know Brexit has increased costs for businesses and now, that’s being felt by consumers already badly squeezed by the cost of living crisis."

Omnisis is a member of the British Polling Council and polled a representative group of 1,026 British adults on 25 May 2022. The full tables and methodology can be found here.

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Disaster Capitalism in Ukraine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:45pm in

A number of dominant agricultural commodity traders are set to make big money thanks to Russia’s invasion, reports Dimitris Dimitriadis

While 44 million people are “marching towards starvation” and Ukrainian food exports – enough to feed 400 million people in 2021 – are prevented from leaving the country, an industry of grain traders and middlemen is making a lot of money.

The invasion of Ukraine, which has conspired with Coronavirus and climate change, has created a perfect storm for global food insecurity. It has been a boon for agricultural commodity traders – an industry dominated by a quartet of companies commonly referred to as ABCD: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. 

The ability of the sector to capitalise on the global crisis has led experts to question the ethics of so-called 'disaster capitalism'.

The gains made by at least two of the agri-giants are sizeable. Share prices for Bunge and ADM have soared by an average increase of 11% since the outbreak of the conflict, easily outstripping the FTSE 100 which has risen by less than 3% over the same period. This is consistent with a longer-term share price increase of more than 50% in the last three years, as demand for foodstuffs exploded in response to pandemic-inflicted lockdowns. 

The ABCD, which control anywhere between 75% and 90% of the agricultural trade market, have been well positioned to profit from Ukraine’s export standstill and accelerating food inflation that global bodies say threaten famines in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. 

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter, food commodity prices soared to record high levels, with the FAO Food Price Index reporting a 13% jump in March. But the worst may be yet to come, as the UN warns that food and feed inflation could climb to 22% this year – that is, if the conflict continues to prevent Ukraine’s exports from being released into global markets.

This will impact not only nations with a strong wheat import dependence on Ukraine – like Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon – but also many countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are already plagued by conflict, climate change and acute hunger crises. 

But amid every disaster, lurks opportunity.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the overall market capitalisation – a total value of a company’s shares and a proxy for investor confidence – for agricultural commodity traders has risen by 10%. This puts it firmly among the winners’ club alongside the fertiliser industry, which has seen an overall increase of 27% – an uptick that is bested only by the coal, offshore oil drilling and alternative fuels sectors, according to market data.  

It is also little wonder that, as oil and gas prices have surged following the invasion. Oil giant Saudi Aramco just reported an 82% jump in profits – recording the highest net earnings since its listing in 2019. 

Bunge, meanwhile, the world’s largest oilseed processor and a grain and fertiliser trader, recently reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings of $4.26 per share (up from $3.13 in the same period last year), after the conflict in Ukraine sent food commodity prices soaring.    

Its competitor, another supply chain middleman, ADM, also posted earnings of $1.90 per share, beating expectations of $1.41, adding that its profits for 2022 would confidently top last year’s – at $2.9 billion.    

Meanwhile, Louis Dreyfus reported a jump in profit for 2021 – which reached $697 million, up 82.5% from the previous year – on the back of recovering global demand for staple crops, but said the Ukraine conflict could have a “material impact” on its operations locally.  

Cargill, America’s largest privately held business, last year announced a net income of $5 billion, the largest profit in its 156-year history. While its earnings in the last few months of 2022 are not known, the company – which is controlled by a dynasty of billionaires – has not pulled out from Russia, where it has done business for nearly half a century. It also continues to serve the other side of the conflict: Ukraine.  

The ‘Gatekeepers’

This is emblematic of a market that has no “national loyalties” or “flags”, according to Dr Fadhel Kaboub, Associate Economics Professor at Denison University, adding that these traders do not tend to shy away from conflict zones. 

Instead, he says, their scale and resources allows them to incur the cost of doing business in wartime and operate at the grey periphery of sanctions. Food and medicines are not included in global restrictions.

Cagrill says on its website that “food is a basic human right” and that it does everything it can to “nourish the world”, adding that the region [Ukraine-Russia] “plays a significant role in our global food system”. 

Proponents of the agricultural trade industry claim that profits alone do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing or malfeasance. They add that the sector in fact helps restore stability in the food markets by using its scale and access to information to match demand with supply – in this case, shipping food and other commodities where they are most needed.   

But Kaboub says that the ABCD traders are “gatekeepers” of a world order that continues to prevent the Global South from developing its own food sovereignty, while giving big producing countries and traders immense influence and leverage over prices. 

“In a world where you have countries independently controlling their own food security, those companies wouldn’t have that much power,” he says.

“The ABCD traders are not just covering the cost of doing business, they’re taking advantage of a real crisis to surcharge.”

Some critics go even further and allege that agricultural traders not only capitalise on disruption but also often promote it through “predatory” practices that can accentuate market volatility. 

Kaboub pointed to a long and dark history of Wall Street speculators that in some cases have helped create food crises only to be allowed by the authorities to walk away with a “slap on the wrist” or a hefty fine. 

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme has urged that, unless the Black Sea ports of Odesa are allowed to operate and export food produced in Ukraine, the global hunger crisis could spiral out of control. 

As many as an additional 47 million people could face acute hunger if the conflict continues, the body says. That’s on top of the 276 million people who already found themselves in this dire situation at the start of 2022. 

The risk of famine has been compounded by droughts across the Horn of Africa, with countries like Ethiopia and Somalia – which heavily rely on wheat from the Black Sea – seeing the cost of a food basket rising by 66% and 36% respectively in April, according to the UN

There are only modest grounds for optimism. While using its Black Sea ports is out of the question – at least for the time being – Ukraine is assessing whether it can export its food supply via neighbouring countries like Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

However, transporting the wheat is proving a Herculean operation: Ukraine’s railway system is not (fully) compatible with that of its EU neighbours – meaning that trains are probably a non-starter. The fall-back is using trucks but that is bound to be much slower and more arduous. 

Until then, the hope is that other countries will increase their wheat exports and ease the shortages. But India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, has been hit with an unexpected and prolonged heatwave , which is threatening the bulk of its crops in the north. 

“Experts don’t see prices coming down in the next six months and it could be potentially a much worse situation beyond then,” says Kaboub. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Food Bank Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 9:04pm in

Rachel Morris considers the malaise of modern Britain as the Conservatives initiate Austerity 2.0

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“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today”, said the Mad Hatter. Perhaps he wrote this year’s Queen’s Speech, as delivered by golden calf Prince Charles, and subsequent tweets by Her Majesty’s Government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested that the Government could help you with the cost of living crisis, if you start a small enterprise first. A jam stall, perhaps.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng shared his passion for nuclear power plants – not exactly a short-term fix – in the week when it was revealed that we’re set to receive glowing veg from Fukushima.

Most ministers repeated the bit from their propaganda manual about being laser-focused on “the people’s priorities”. Nothing like a bit of alliteration to drown out those noises emanating from your stomach.

While French people got a state-delivered energy price cap limiting increases to 4%, our 54% rises can surely only be deliberate.

There’s no question that we’ve embarked upon Austerity 2.0. But the ‘A’ word can’t be said out loud, because according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Austerity 1.0 caused 130,000 preventable deaths.

That’s one in every 517 people. COVID has now killed one in 347, if you divide the 2020 Census population by deaths with COVID on the certificate (193,713 at 11 May).

Austerity has therefore been rebranded. The Conservatives have driven the more comfortable classes into needing food banks, so has started calling them ‘pantries’. This was exactly the approach of Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt who on 22 April declared a partnership with Hive Portsmouth, setting up ‘food pantries’ in her constituency to save households an “average £800 a year in food bills”.

The accompanying video makes the food bank look like Waitrose, with more gorgeous veg and eggs than I’ve seen anywhere in France. Mordaunt appeals for generous individuals to run them, off the Government pay-roll.

In an article for the Daily Express earlier this week, Mordaunt said that anti-Brexit “doomsters want Britain to fail”. If she doesn’t understand that Britain is already failing, perhaps the minister should spend an afternoon in the food ‘pantry’, when it’s open for business.

According to Mordaunt, Remainers must instead become Tinkerbells: they must close their eyes tight and believe in Brexit hard enough, so food banks – sorry, ‘pantries’ – will vanish. For most people, however, closing their eyes just makes the hunger more apparent.

Asset-Stripping

Closing his eyes is something well-known to Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who spends his days lounging on the green benches of the House of Commons.

Ultimately, the people in charge see widespread hunger and poverty as a game: an exercise imagined in public relations school – or perhaps a question on the Eton entrance exam – designed to prove how they can wriggle out of a tight spot.

And the latest frontier of this PR campaign has focused on Labour Leader Keir Starmer having a beer and a curry during a work event. The nation’s attention has been diverted away from yet more Downing Street party fines, a catastrophic Conservative local election performance, and the High Court ruling that the Government consigned elderly people to death during the early stages of the pandemic.

It is also deeply ironic that this ‘scandal’ focuses on food, when 4.7 million adults are currently suffering from food insecurity.

Indeed, there are fewer McDonald’s (1,358) in the UK than food ‘pantries’ (more than 2,200). But, according to Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, it’s poor people who are to blame for their growling bellies.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles can still utter the phrase “levelling up” in Parliament while sitting in front of a gold-encrusted wall on a gold-encrusted throne wearing gold-and-medal-encrusted clothing – saying that regional rebalancing will be achieved by “ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”.

There’s a reason why the Government has run out of ideas about how to fix the country. Primarily, because fixing the problems would involve a recognition that they created the problems in the first place and – secondly – because the Conservative Party takes its instructions from its paymasters in the private sector.

Everywhere you look, the Government is privatising – or threatening to privatise – whatever hasn’t already been sold-off. Passports, driving licenses, Channel 4, alongside our crap-filled waterways. But this asset-stripping goes much further. The state’s role itself has been privatised.

If you want to challenge the lawfulness of a Government action, you must crowdfund it yourself. If you want veterans to have something to sleep on, you must support a charity like Forgotten Veterans UK, whose ambassador is – Penny Mordaunt.

There will come a time when too few can afford to support privately-funded efforts by the third sector, with time or money, and some of these needs simply won’t be met at all. What happens when there are more GoFundMe pages than people who can donate to them? When there are more charities than the charitable?

Up to 14.5 million people lived in poverty before the pandemic – one in every four or five – which is projected to rise to 16 million by 2023. And the Government’s response is indifference.

Last October, the Prime Minister told businesses that it wasn’t his job to fix their every problem. The Chancellor said he “can’t do everything” after criticism of his Spring Statement. Other ministers are saying similar.

We’re on our own now, shivering in a corner with the Trussell Trust. Only £3 million crowns get a lift in a Rolls Royce. The Government makes no bones about it: you’ll have to figure it out on your own. Perhaps you could use those bones to make a tasty broth? If you can afford to put the cooker on. But don’t think there’ll be jam with it. Not today.

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