Food and Oil

Oil supply shock, food shortages, and potential starvation in Sweden?

In 2013 the Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering (JTI) released a report about potential impacts on the country’s food supply from sudden oil import shocks. JTI looked at three different scenarios, where oil imports would be restricted (-25%, -50%, -75%) for a period of 3-5 years. Not enough time to make a transition to some other fuel.

In the worst case scenario, where 75% of oil imports disappear, the authors stated that the diesel price could increase to some SEK 160/litre, and we would likely experience widespread starvation! Food supplies, in stores and warehouses, would only last for 10-12 days. Swedes don’t even know that the government has said that it’s up to the citizens themself to provide for their own food needs in a crisis situation. Most people seem to believe we still live in the 1970s when Sweden was a socialist country, not any more, not since the neoliberals came into office and started dismantling healthcare, defence, education etc. There is no emergency preparedness!

Without fossil fuels (oil and gas) we wouldn’t be able to produce enough food in Sweden. This is partly due to our high food imports (50%)​, large-scale mechanisation of farms, loss of small-scale farmers and high costs (taxes) on farming. Most farm machinery runs on diesel while oil is used for heating and transportation. Areas like Stockholm and parts of Norrland are especially dependent on food imports. For example, the Stockholm region only produces some 5% of the milk consumed and less than 10% of the meat.

Today there are no food or fuel reserves, instead the entire country is totally dependent on “just-in-time” supplies. Again, in the worst case scenario, there will be no cooking oil, 75% less fruits and berries, 67-70% less grains, 40% less milk, and 64% less pigs, chickens and eggs. The only thing increasing is sheep and cow meat since a lot of land only will be used for grazing.

Swedes can be kept over the starvation line if only 25% of oil imports disappear, but we will experience food shortages and risk of starvation if a larger oil shock occurs (50-75%). Looking at the export-import data some commentators have estimated that 90% of all oil imports will be gone by 2030. And this is probably a conservative estimate since it doesn’t account for sudden shocks due to an economic crisis, conflict, and so on.

In a recent opinion poll (2013) two out of every three (63%) Swedes stated that they wouldn’t be able to handle a shorter crisis. People in Gotland, Öland (islands) and Småland were most worried about a future crisis (49% think they will experience a crisis). Most people (58%) can only manage for about one week but it’s likely that the respondents underestimate how much resources are actually required for everyday life. For example, water (3 litres/day) and heating during the winter.

Sweden’s food supply is in any case extremely vulnerable to a shortage in oil imports, and Swedes are not prepared despite a lacking government. Our dear politicians have absolutely no plan on changing this, instead they claim “we need to stay competitive” totally missing the point that growth is over! (0.3% per capita GDP growth the last decade). The situation is not made better by half of all our oil imports now coming from Russia that we are engaging in trade wars with (sanctions etc).


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Energy consumption and agricultural population