Technology and Change

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In this section, you can see how modern technologies such as refrigeration, transportation and mechanised farming methods have transformed the food industry over the past century. You will be able to listen to the extracts and access both a transcript and background information for each recording.

Henry Cross

Norfolk arable farmer Henry Cross remembers how sugar beet crops were harvested when he was a child growing up on his father's farm.

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Read more about the changes to rural Britain over the past few decades.

Hugh Lowe

Hugh Lowe was born into a farming family in Wiltshire. Here, he describes how his strawberry farm relies on student seasonal workers who come from Europe to pick fruit in the summer months.

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Read more about what goes on 'behind the scenes' of the food industry: from regulations and legislation to changing labours forces.

Norman Macleod

Here, Norman Macleod remembers his father's work as a crofter fisherman, and recalls the difficulty of food transportation before developments in refrigeration technology.

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Read more about food distribution, food miles and industrialisation.

Andrew Mackenzie

Andrew Mackenzie is a category manager in Meat, Poultry and Dairy products in a supermarket. Here, Andrew explains why attitudes towards poultry have changed in recent years and reflects on his own feelings about meat and poultry production.

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Read more about the poultry industry, the origins and the dangers of intensive chicken farming.

Ray Moore

Ray Moore manages an egg hatchery that hatches chicks for the poultry industry. During his working life, Ray has seen countless small scale chicken farms transform into intensively farmed and highly mechanised businesses. Here, Ray describes his reaction to the first mechanised egg hatching machines capable of hatching hundreds of thousands of chicks.

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Read more about the poultry industry, the origins and the dangers of intensive chicken farming.

Norman Robson

The 1950s and 60s were times of rapid change in the food industry with developments in refrigerations, distributions and microbiology. Many things we take for granted today are only possible because of the invention of particular procedures, techniques and equipment. Here, former Marks and Spencer technologist Norman Robson describes the processes developed to make, slice and package cake for retail sale.

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Read more about the packaging and preserving, labelling and branding of our food.

Matt Twidale

The government payments given to European sugar producers have been criticised for having a negative effect on farmers in the developing world. For his whole life, Matt Twidale has produced sugar beet on his farm in Nottinghamshire. Here, he talks about an interview he gave to a journalist about being a British sugar farmer.

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Read more about the history of sugar production both in the UK and internationally as well as its connections to both slavery and the Common Agricultural Policy.

Peter Vinson

Strawberry breeder Peter Vinson recalls the casual workers who came to pick fruit on his farmer every year.

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Transcript

Read more about what goes on 'behind the scenes' of the food industry: from regulations and legislation to the changing labour forces.

Oliver Walston

Oliver Walston, a Cambridgeshire cereal farmer, describes the working conditions on his farm when he was a child.

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Transcript

Read more about the changes to rural Britain over the past few decades.

John Watts

Communication and distribution systems have improved dramatically in recent years and this has had a great effect on the ways that fresh, perishable foods are transported and sold. In the following extract lorry driver John Watts describes the impact of these changes on the everyday businesses.

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Transcript

Read more about food distribution, food miles and industrialisation.

Background

Factory and Farm

Where once farms used ploughs, horses and farm labourers to farm the land, farming in the West is now a mechanized affair, relying on tractors, combine harvesters and industrially produced fertilizers and pesticides. The last fifty years have seen the rise of 'intensive farming' in the West, in which farmers use industrial methods to produce huge quantities of goods. These methods include mechanised production processes, cuts in manual labour, and a heavy reliance on the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides.

Food from far away

Throughout history, food has been transported across the world, traded between nations, and shared between communities. But today this process is faster and more extensive than every before. Huge quantities of foodstuffs are sent all round the world each day, carried on planes, container ships, trains and lorries. Even during the British apple season, an apple sold in a shop or supermarket may have travelled all the way from New Zealand or Chile. Many people are concerned about the carbon emissions produced by the 'food miles' a product has travelled - every day planes pumping out huge amounts of fuel fly fresh goods from abroad into Britain. In response to these concerns, many British towns are setting up farmers' markets in which stallholders sell only locally produced food.

The science of food/Sci-food

Science and technology play a major role in the food we eat and the ways we cook. Canning, freezing and chilling - all these technologies have transformed our diets over time. More recently, the huge ready-meal industry has been made possible because of developments in transport, refrigeration, packaging and microbiology.

Sustainability

Environmentalists are worried about the amount of chemicals farmers use on their lands and crops and the long term effects of these on the soil and water. The organic movement believes we should use fewer artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Others feel organic farming cannot produce sufficient quantities of food, and that it is a very expensive method of farming only able to produce costly goods. The market for organic food, however, is growing.

Security

National food security, or ensuring the country has a consistent and guaranteed supply of food, is another issue that causes concern for some people. Recent decades have seen the emergence of genetically modified (GM) foods. Many see modern scientific developments in food production as the solution to food security and world poverty. Currently, we import around 40% of our food. Do you think that we should produce enough food as a nation to feed ourselves? Can you think of political or environmental circumstances that might threaten our food security?