Defra opens to the floor on food

Posted on 10 Aug 2009 by The Manufacturer

Environment secretary Hilary Benn has called for a “radical rethink” on Britain's food industry as he launched a consultation process alongside the publication of a food security assessment report.

Benn’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is inviting feedback from manufacturers, consumers and retailers on how the food industry is likely to change over the coming decades. The move has been deemed necessary as the government department feels the food industry has been permanently altered by economic shifts and the continuing battle against climate change. There is a danger, Benn says, that if the UK does not become self-sustainable then we will have to pay largely inflated prices for food from abroad or will go hungry.

And as the global environment changes, the ability to grow certain crops in certain parts of the world will change with it.

Benn wants the UK to source more of it’s food from home soil rather than importing it. The UK also needs to grow more produce to take advantage of the estimated two to three billion more mouths in the world which will need feeding in 2050. Much more of certain crops will be needed for things like biofuels and fertilizers too.

The UK is roughly 63 per cent sustainable at current rates but this can be improved, Been says.

Defra has thus called for affected third parties to contribute to the discussion on its website on how this can happen. The consultation has been branded Food 2030.

The National Farmer’s Association called for more state investment in R&D into things like ways to increase yields and how crops can be cultivated using less water. Tax breaks for new machinery is also necessary, the organisation says.

The UK Food Security Assessment paper that was released alongside it today focusses on the security of six areas of the industry, including global availability and growth prospects. It also predicts the fortunes of different food types in five to ten years time. It highlights the crisis facing world fish stocks but says the UK’s fruit and vegetable farming is ripe to prosper.

While Andrew Kuyk, director of sustainability and competitiveness at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) applauded the general sentiment behind the report, the publication of which constitutes “a step in the right direction”, he said it does not go far enough as it only looks at the next five to ten years and does not address the longer term risks facing the industry.

“We need a genuine long-term vision and strategy for farming and food production – one that is designed to ensure the nation’s food security against the combined effects of climate change, higher global demand and increasing pressure on finite resources,” said Kuyk.

He also reiterated that government and manufacturers must strive to ensure the visions outlined in the report are made reality.

“Given that it is now a year since the cabinet office published its Food Matters report, we would urge Government to accelerate its efforts to work with manufacturers and our food chain partners to develop a food vision and strategy that takes full account of our economic, strategic and social importance to the UK,” he added.

Early responses to the Food 2030 discussion appeared to back Benn’s calls.

“As an island nation we need to improve food production, both animal and vegetable, to minimise imports and prevent being held to ransom by foreign powers,” said one, John Middleton.

“The biggest mistake than any government can make now is to be seduced by the hollow claims of biotech companies and switch to large scale GM food,” said another, Colin Shaw. “It is not the answer and is definitely not sustainable.”

For more information or to join in the Food 2030 discussion, visit Defra’s website here.