Agritech funding cuts will damage the food supply chain

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Britain's sustainable food future may be under threat from cuts to agritech
Britain's sustainable food future may be under threat from cuts to agritech

Related tags Food security Sustainability Agriculture

The future of the UK’s agricultural technologies (agritech) strategy has been called into question after last year’s “savage cuts” in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ budget, which is likely to feed through into a reduction of its science budget.

Over the past few months, senior academics in agricultural and food technology, plus representatives from the food manufacturing sector and National Farmers Union, have expressed serious concern that severe cuts in the sector’s science research budget would hit the UK’s ability to secure a sustainable future.

In November, the Lords EU Sub-Committee on Energy and the Environment set up an inquiry into how we might create a more resilient agricultural sector, in light of increasing commodity price volatility. The closing date for giving evidence was December 31.

‘Resilient agricultural sector’

“Europe needs a resilient agricultural sector to ensure the secure, sustainable and affordable supply of food to EU citizens,”​ said chairman of the sub-committee Baroness Scott of Needham Market, at the launch of the inquiry.

“At a time when weather-related events, geopolitical developments and market fluctuations that impact on agriculture are likely to be ever more common, we need to ensure farmers and others have the appropriate support to manage risk.”

The next steps for UK agritech were discussed at a seminar organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum last year.

At the event, Dr Stephen Axford, head of agritech at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, discussed the evolution of the agritech strategy.

Have to be more creative

Given tightening budgets, Axford remarked: “We have to be more and more creative and that creativity comes from building partnerships and sharing good ideas.”

Professor Charles Godfray, director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford, outlined the wider challenges facing us in terms of food security and highlighted the “polarised debate”​ surrounding the concept of sustainable intensification, in relation to things such as animal welfare, together with the use of genetic modification and healthy diets.

Godfray called for the political focus to be maintained on food and sustainability. “Don’t let food drop down the political agenda,”​ he said. “Keep investing in research into agritech.”

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