NFU: UK can’t risk switching off food production

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Batters: ‘For too long we have reacted to Government – now is the time for forwards thinking to shape the future’
Batters: ‘For too long we have reacted to Government – now is the time for forwards thinking to shape the future’
The UK needs to continue producing food and not rely on imports post-Brexit, or it risks never being able to produce food again, warned the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Minette Batters.

“Do we need to produce food in the UK?”​ she asked attendees at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference. “Let me make it clear – if we ever turn the food production tap off, we would massively struggle to ever turn it back on again.​”

Batters comments were framed against the backdrop of three “three seismic pieces of change in legislation”​ – the Government’s trade, immigration and agricultural bills – and were the basis of a series of roundtable discussions being held by the NFU in an effort to build a comprehensive, industry-owned food strategy.

Broken up into four key ‘work strings’, this new strategy hoped to provide a plan and a way forward that all parts of the food supply chain and politicians could buy into.

‘Time for forwards thinking’

“For too long we have reacted to Government – now is the time for forwards thinking to shape the future,”​ said Batters.

“With 60% of the food eaten in this country produced in this country, there has never been a more important time to have a joined-up food strategy.”

Along with Batters’ insistence that the UK needed to continue producing food to cement its position as the “jewel in the world’s crown”, ​the NFU’s strategy focused heavily on food standards.

“We’ve seen a meteoric journey in the last 20 years in food standards,” ​said Batters. “The UK is third in global food security, accounting for availability, quality and safety and the Union Flag has become a lightning rod of confidence, telling consumers that the job is done right.”

Zero tolerance

She called for a zero tolerance approach to food fraud and adulteration, and assured delegates that a sustained effort to promote the UK as a beacon of high standards would prevent lower-quality products being imported into the country.

Batters urged the Government to take action on its “warm words”​ on preserving the high level of standards: “I really appreciate ​[this], but I want to see this in writing. If you believe it, write it and legislate it.”

The NFU strategy would also focus on educating consumers on the importance on healthy diets over ‘healthy foods’, as well as doing more to protect the environment and tackle climate change. The NFU planned to publish its food strategy in full in April.

Meanwhile, the Government’s inability to reassure UK food producers on the future of the industry post-Brexit has made the country an international embarrassment,​ Shore Capital head of research Clive Black has claimed.

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