Just 53% of the nation’s food needs will be supplied from UK farms within the next 25 years, if current production rates continue, NFU research revealed yesterday (February 24). The NFU described the fall as having “potentially serious implications for the British economy, food security and employment”.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) underlined the key contribution of home-produced food and drink to the sector, while also defending food and drink imports.
FDF interim director general Jim Moseley told FoodManufacture.co.uk manufacturers would like to source more British produce: “We use a large percentage of the produce that comes from British farms and that is what shoppers often look for. We would definitely be keen to see more resilience in the food supply chain, so it is less susceptible to vagaries in the climate or to political instability.”
But the wide choice of food and drink generated by imports was also important, he added. “It must be remembered that consumers enjoy a wide range of foods from different parts of the globe and we would never favour any developments that might reduce the choice available in the UK.”
The NFU said urgent action was needed from successive governments to reverse a 30-year downward spiral in the ratio of home-produced to imported food. At present, 60% of the nation’s food is home-produced. But by 2040 there would be about an extra 13M British mouths to feed, at a time when the country’s self-sufficiency in home-grown food was predicted to sink to new lows.
Food self sufficiency
“The stark choice for the next government is whether to trust the nation’s food security to volatile world markets or to back British farming and reverse the worrying trend in food production.”
NFU president Meurig Raymond
The report – published on the opening day of the NFU Conference in Birmingham – followed research underlining shoppers’ growing preference for British food. Recent YouGov figures showed 85% of the population wanted to see supermarkets selling more food from British farms – an increase from 79% last year.
‘Weak bargaining power’
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “Today’s report highlights the causes of the decline in self-sufficiency, including shifting and conflicting direction on European and UK farm policy; declining investment in publicly funded research and development; poorly crafted regulation, and weak bargaining power within the food chain.”
It also explained what needed to be done to reverse this trend. The next government had a key choice to make, he added. “The stark choice for the next government is whether to trust the nation’s food security to volatile world markets or to back British farming and reverse the worrying trend in food production.
“I want to see a robust plan for increasing the productive potential of farming, stimulating investment and ensuring that the drive to increase British food production is at the heart of every government department.”
But the Provision Trade Federation (PTF) said, in an increasingly global market, it was inevitable the UK will import and export an increasing volume of food.
“While this is an interesting report, it also feels like a missed opportunity,” said PTF director general Terry Jones. “The report should have focused on how the whole UK supply chain can deliver for consumers with ever-changing demands and the importance of ensuring the competitiveness of every link of that chain to grab a larger share of markets at home and abroad.”