The Strategic Food Stockpile

By Steve Fox

It was expected that a nuclear strike would have a devastating effect on the nation's food supply. Imports would cease, the loss of gas and electricity would curtail production, shortages of fuel and labour would disrupt distribution, the loss of fertilisers would reduce farm output and so on.

Planning in this area was the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). After a strike MAFF would transform itself into the Food and Agriculture Organisation, responsible for supplying food.

In the lead up to war MAFF would encourage producers to increase their output and would introduce a rationing system for tinned and other long life foods. Bulk food stocks would be moved away from ports and an increased number of food buffer depots established. The buffer depots would provide a strategic reserve of food under the control of the Regional Commissioner, to feed the survivors until a more normal system of food supply could be re-established. The food would be released by the Regional Food Officers to the County Food Controllers, who would be responsible for its collection and distribution to the emergency feeding centres.

At the heart of the system was the strategic food stockpile, which was held for MAFF in the peacetime buffer depots. [For a full list of these depots, see War Plan UK by D. Campbell - Ed] The stockpile held a very limited variety of food and was not intended to provide a balanced diet or even feed the survivors for any length of time.

The following foods were held in the 1980s:

  • Flour - This was a special high protein, low moisture content flour which was turned over every 4-5 years.
  • Yeast - Packed in tins with an expected life of 10 years.
  • Sugar - Held in 56 lb sacks and turned over if it started to deteriorate.
  • Fat - Known as `Ministry Marge' with an expected shelf life of 20 years.
  • Biscuits - Sweet biscuits in large tins apparently baked in the 1960s.

Some glucose sweets were apparently produced, but found to be too expensive. There have been suggestions that some baby foods and convenience foods were also held, but given the general scarcity of the known stocks this seems unlikely. During the 1960s tinned meat and cake mix was held, but at its peak during the last war, the strategic stockpiles were enormous; with large amounts of frozen and tinned meat and other products including tea and `Ministry Soup'.

MAFF have not released details of the quantities held, which in any event would have been augmented in the crisis period, but the Rattlesden depot [ex-WW2 Bomber airfield, and 1960s Bloodhound missile site - Ed] near Ipswich held 1,433 tons of flour, 621 of sugar, 654 of fat, 120 of biscuits and 33 of yeast. MAFF says that it had 67 depots in 1995, which if Rattlesden was an average example would confirm the figure quoted in the press that the stockpile was 200,000 tons.

This sounds a lot, but considering the flour held at Rattlesden together with that held at the other five depots believed to have been in the 4 Home Defence A region (East Anglia) it would produce some 25 million loaves for the peacetime population of 5 million. The reader can decide the efficacy of these 5 loaves, when there were tinned fishes available. These figures, of course, assume that the loaves could be baked and distributed but also ignore the fact that they would be used to supplement the standard 1/2 pint of stew which would be the expected daily ration amounting to 1200 calories planned for under emergency feeding arrangements.

If used to augment other rations and if increased prior to attack, the strategic food stockpile may have been of considerable use; but when measured alongside the amount of food needed in the months of the survival period, the amount of food which would be in normal commercial hands and the stocks held during the last war, its cost-effectiveness is questionable. Was it retained perhaps, rather like the Green Goddesses by accident, or by inertia to serve a political rather than a practical purpose?

All the food stocks and buffer depots had been disposed of by the end of 1995.

© S P Fox July 1996


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