FOOD SECURITY has never been far from the headlines in recent years, with food scares and fluctuating prices being reported alongside sporadic worries as to how the world will feed a global population set to exceed nine billion in the coming decades.
However, the English National Farmers Union is using today to highlight the fact that the UK’s self-sufficiency in food has dropped markedly in recent years – and the organisation is highlighting the fact that if imports were halted, consumers would be facing a hungry gap through to the end of the year.
The union stated that, in terms of self-sufficiency, the UK supplies only 60 per cent of the food eaten on these shores – a level that has slipped back from around 80 per cent in the early 1990s despite, the union claimed, British farmers being geared up to produce more.
“Self-sufficiency, though not the conclusive indicator for the success of the sector, is an important benchmark to measure our ability to produce food if our imports become restricted, as well as the sector’s potential to grow,” said NFU president Meurig Raymond.
He said the NFU was encouraging consumers, retailers, politicians and the wider food industry to Back British Farming – a move which would give “ready, willing and able farmers” the right signals to produce more, in attempt to arrest the downward slide in self-sufficiency.
“To think UK food would only last until today without imports is an alarming notion,” said Raymond, “But looking back over the last two decades and seeing the downward slope in self- sufficiency says to me ‘this needs to change’.”
He said that the union knew that people wanted to buy British food, with surveys showing that 86 per cent of shoppers wanted to buy more traceable food produced on British farms:
“What we need now is for farming to be at the heart of decision-making across the wider food industry and government, to allow for more food to be both produced and consumed here, in the UK.”
Raymond said that despite the disappointing slide, the farming sector should still be proud of its ability to produce the raw ingredients for the £97bn UK food and drink industry. But he warned the trade gap was widening: “While our export performance has doubled in the last decade, we are spending £21.3bn more on imports than we are receiving from exports – up from £10.2bn in 1991.
“What needs to happen now is for us as a country is to give farmers the green light to produce more food for us.
He said the NFU’s aim was to get the country – including consumers, politicians, retailers and the wider food industry – backing British farming. A solid plan for agricultural growth aimed at reversing the current decline in self-sufficiency would, he said play a critical role in ensuring long-term food security.
“A growth plan would need a cohesive partnership of the industry and government Backing British Farming; valuing and buying more British food and helping to set a framework which supports increasing production. It would also look at how we can attract new entrants to farming and wider agriculture careers,” concluded Raymond.