NFU President Peter Kendall has used his New Year’s message to warn that the UK’s food gap is set to widen further unless the Government takes action to reverse the trend.
He said: “2011 will see the new Government laying the policy foundations that will be critical to whether Britain’s farmers can rise to the food production challenge of the next twenty years.
“The UK’s own population is set to grow from today’s 62 million to over 70 million by 2030.
“If home production levels stay the same, we’ll become ever more dependent on imports.
“As it is, we’re already buying in more than 40% of our food, up from around 25% twenty years ago. With eight million more mouths to feed we’ll be edging towards one in every two meals coming, in effect, from food grown abroad.”
More and more consumers are concerning themselves with local sourcing and reducing their food footprint, but the NFU are worried that all the hard work gone into making consumers aware of their moral responsibility will go out the window when retailers will be forced to source most of their foods from abroad.
“I’m not suggesting we need to take an isolationist approach to food production; we’re a trading nation and trade is also vital to our food security, it ensures variety, and is an opportunity for the industry too.
“But if we’re going to ensure food supplies for UK consumers it is in our national interest to produce more in the UK.
“It is not just me saying that. It’s a formal objective of the new Government, set out in black and white in Defra’s business plan.
And food security – at least on a global scale – is on the radar elsewhere in Government too.
“Research and Development spend was protected from the worst of the cuts and the new cross-research-council Global Food Security programme has been prioritised in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ budget allocations announced in December.
“What worries me is not the Government’s commitment to ensuring big picture, global food security, but its commitment to ensuring that local food supply here at home is encouraged and enabled.
“A narrow localist agenda could pose a serious threat to the growth we need, whether from state-of-the-art polytunnels for soft-fruit production, high-output glasshouses for vegetables, or the latest in lower carbon, high welfare, pig and poultry units.
“Localism needs leadership otherwise it is nothing more than a recipe for Nimbyism. That is why it is absolutely crucial that the Government includes food production as a strategic priority in its new national planning framework.
“This is a Government which is shouting from the rooftops that it wants growth; our farms can help deliver that growth, right across the country.
“It’s a Government that wants to strip away red tape that stifles entrepreneurship, and – as businesses – we’re enthusiastic, if realistic, about that too.
“It is also a Government that wants to see a presumption in favour of sustainable development; that is where we need leadership from the top, giving local decision-makers a steer about the bigger national interest.
“Farmers are ready to rise to the challenge and invest in their businesses.
“Let 2011 be the year in which the Government takes its own commitment to increasing food production seriously and – instead of relying on imports to fill the food gap – puts in place a policy framework that will enable Britain’s producers to keep up with demand.
“Planning is one example, and a litmus test of how seriously the Government takes this commitment. ”