‘We can’t afford a policy vacuum around food,’ say industry heads

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture

Leading scientists and industry bosses have called for more public investment in agricultural, biotechnological and food research to enable the UK to address the huge challenges facing the world.

Former government chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, said: "We have, across the world, seen a collapse in investment in science and technology to back up food production. And at a time when we want to see massive increases in food production capacity per hectare around the world.

"We are in a strange situation where the biggest challenges are being met with a fall, not a rise, in investment in R&D. And this is investment that has to be made principally in the public domain but I am keen to see public-private partnerships developed to stimulate that process."

Giving the Institute of Food Science and Technology 2011 lecture last month, King added: "We need to produce more food efficiently and sustainably; secure the ecosystem services while we are doing it; keep pace with emerging diseases; address new challenges flooding, but we've [also] got drought resistance required; salinity, etc. In particular, [we need] a focus on the world's poorest communities."

Speaking at a food industry event earlier in the month, Food and Drink Federation president, Jim Moseley said: "The Foresight Report [The Future of Food and Farming, published in January] left us in absolutely no doubt about the course of action that we need to pursue if we are to meet the twin challenges of food security and climate change. Very simply, we need to produce more for less, with less impact. It's a tough challenge."

Moseley added: "To enable us to progress faster, the [Foresight] report also raised some points that require government support and leadership."​ He added: "We can't afford for there to be a policy vacuum around food." ​Moseley also called for greater exploration of new technologies to support more sustainable food production.

"I would encourage government to look at these potential enablers proactively using science, rather than, perhaps, emotion, as the basis for decision. Our industry now requires our government to work with us to maximise our impact on the economy."

At a debate organised by the Crop Protection Association, George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science & Technology in Agriculture, claimed that such industry calls were likely to find favour with the coalition government. "Food and agricultural science is absolutely central to a lot of what this government is trying to achieve,"​ said Freeman.

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