69 Attlee to Chifley
Cablegram 43 LONDON, 4 February 1946, 11.40 p.m.
IMPORTANT SECRET AND PERSONAL
Your telegram No. 28. 
Following personal from Mr. Attlee for Mr. Chifley:
I was most grateful to you for your very helpful telegram of 18th January about wheat. I am relieved to know that you will continue to give your personal attention to this problem. it is indeed hard to exaggerate the gravity of the situation. It now seems even worse than it did a fortnight ago.
2. According to latest advice, exports of wheat from the United States may well turn out at 500,000 tons below the figures assumed when Sir Ben Smith was in Washington, and exports from the Argentine may also fall short of estimates by 250,000 to 500,000 tons. There is no help to be got from rice which will also be well below requirements. Meanwhile, the needs of importing countries have increased. We have had most alarming telegrams from the Viceroy.  There has been widespread failure of crops due to a tidal wave in Madras and prolonged drought in Madras, Bombay, Mysore and the Punjab. There are insufficient stocks in the country to meet the short-fall and no possibility of economy by reducing rations which are already very low. India must thus have an import of at least two million tons of rice, wheat or millet, during 1946, if famine of a dimension and intensity greater than the Bengal famine of 1943 [is] to be avoided. This is an increase of 500,000 tons on their earlier request and I should not be surprised if in point of fact they do not need more. In the circumstances of political crisis which are approaching, a famine in India would be bound to lead to disorders and would be likely to remove the last hope of an orderly solution of the Indian problem.
3. We have been considering here how to bridge the gap caused by the reduction of nearly a quarter of a million tons in our own imports into the United Kingdom during the first half of 1946. We shall have to reduce our stocks far below the safety level, and run the risk of interference with internal distribution of flour and bread if there is any irregularity in the arrival of imports.
We shall have to increase our extraction rate of flour from 80% to 85% and return to the darker bread which we accepted as a wartime necessity but hoped we had discarded with the end of hostilities.
We shall also have to reduce our fat ration from 8 oz. to 7 oz. a week which is lower than at any time during the war. This last is a direct consequence of the wheat shortage; for India will have to use for food in India groundnuts which she would otherwise have exported to us for fats manufacture.
4. The decision to increase our flour extraction rate, coupled with the decision taken at Washington to divert coarse grains from animal to human use, will substantially reduce our supplies of meat, bacon and eggs. Our plans for re-establishing our livestock herds will suffer a heavy setback and a considerable slaughter of pigs and poultry will be inevitable. Finally, we shall launch a vigorous publicity campaign to economise to the utmost all food, particularly bread. These further sacrifices for which we must call will be a severe strain on our people who have been looking to some relaxation of the standards of austerity which they have cheerfully accepted throughout the war.