Report: Securing UK’s food supplies up to 2050

21 July 2009

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee states the UK has a moral obligation to contribute to the global challenge of securing future food supplies, and outlines future challenges for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in a report published today.

Committee Chairman, the Rt Hon Michael Jack MP said:

"If people go hungry then political stability goes out of the window. This is a key lesson that Defra must learn from last year's food price hike when some countries ran short of food. What happened showed just how fine the line is between full supermarket shelves and empty stomachs."

The Committee wants the UK to make the most of its temperate climate and the natural advantages this gives it for producing food. In contrast, it does not favour targets for food production and recognises that Defra cannot command farmers to increase output of specific commodities. MPs urge Defra to provide clear leadership, and guidance on the nature and size of the challenge.

The report says that the Department must concentrate on building capacity in the food and farming industries so that they can respond to market signals in ways that will reduce the risk of food shortages.

The Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, said:

"The UK can play a leading role both in Europe and globally in making sure that our farmers and food industry can contribute effectively towards meeting the challenge of a world that will need to double its food output by 2050 whilst coping with the pressures of climate change as well as global plant and animal diseases. Every region of the UK has a contribution to make."

The report emphasises that producing sufficient food is only part of the challenge. How food is produced is equally important. The Committee notes that increases in production will have to take place in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the food system, reducing reliance on fossil fuel-derived inputs, and conserving soil and water. Consumers are increasingly interested in how their food is produced.

The report says that consumer engagement will be vital if Defra is to achieve its vision for the UK food system. The report does not advocate food self-sufficiency for the UK and emphasises the importance of strong trading relationships with a variety of countries. It notes that Defra’s response to the challenge of securing food supplies must take place in a European and global context.

It calls for the focus of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy to be on sustainable food production, whilst encouraging European farmers to make their contribution to meeting the world’s future food demands.

The Committee also highlights the development of "food colonialism" or "land grabbing" - a phenomenon that involves the large-scale acquisition of land overseas by wealthy investors in order to grow food for people in the investor country. The Committee is concerned about the pressure this could place on the global food system over time and believes that Defra must take the implications of this phenomenon seriously.

The report says that, as well as providing long-term leadership, Defra must tackle existing weaknesses in the UK food system. In particular, it calls for an urgent increase in spending on public-sector food and farming research.

Chairman of the Committee, the Rt Hon Michael Jack MP said:

"The long-term securing of the UK’s food supplies is a fundamental responsibility of Government. In addressing this challenge DEFRA must ensure that the nation’s farmers have the support and resources they need to secure long-term sustainable increases in agricultural production.

"This challenge will not be met unless DEFRA properly safeguards our world-class agricultural science base. It must heed the words of Professor Kell, the Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and put in an extra £100 million.

"A clear plan of action is needed now, not the formation of ever more Government-run committees. Defra must show real leadership in ensuring that all parts of Government play their role in meeting this challenge. It will take national, European and global co-operation - not confrontation - if the world is to feed itself sustainably in the future."

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