‘Back British Farming’
The National Farmers Union renewed its calls to consumers, retailers and politicians to pledge their support to agriculture. These pleas followed a recent report from the Environment Food & Rural Affairs Committee, highlighting a continuing decline in the UK food self-sufficiency. DEFRA announced new standards for food procurement by government departments – hopefully providing opportunities for local food producers. The pig industry is leading the drive for increasing exports, which last year reached their highest level for over a decade.
Denmark, with a population of just 5 million, produces enough food for a country of 15 million inhabitants. The UK has been a net importer of food since the years of the industrial Revolution in the 19th Century and may face a major challenge of securing sufficient food supplies for its own citizens, in a world that may struggle to feed a significantly larger and more affluent population.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) relaunched its 'Back British Farming' campaign. The launch date of 7th August was deliberately chosen, because it would have been the day that Britain ran out of food “if we relied only on home-grown produce”.
According to NFU data we are 60% self-sufficient in food – enough to provide food for British inhabitants for 219 days in a year. In 1991, Britain was 75% self-sufficient in food.
This trend was corroborated by figures presented in an earlier report 'Food Security', published in July by the Environment Food And Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee of the House of Commons.
In particular, the report highlighted the deteriorating position for fruit and vegetables, stressing that plans should be in place to take account of the increasing unpredictability and volatility of the weather. The Committee also expressed support for the policies to encourage the ‘sustainable intensification’ of food production – in other words, ‘producing more food, on a finite amount of land, in a sustainable way’. This must be backed by investment in innovation and in the development of new technologies. The report acknowledged a role for GM in the future and said the government needed to address consumer concerns in this area with ‘science based’ arguments.
The report also highlighted that livestock and dairy industries were heavily dependent on imported proteins, especially soybean, for use in animal feed. There was therefore a need to plan for alternative animal feed sources for both these industries.
The British pig industry is already trialling the use of alternative ‘home-grown’ protein crops in animal diets, such as lupins, peas and beans. A recent study by the Centre of Agricultural Strategy at Reading University,'Replacing soya in livestock feeds with UK-grown protein crops', asked whether the UK livestock sector could increase its level of self-sufficiency in protein for livestock feeds. Although this is theoretically possible, the report concluded that:
“Increasing the area of protein crops grown in the UK would displace other crops that produced almost as much protein per hectare. As a result, net protein supply from UK agriculture would not significantly increase and supplies of carbohydrate would fall, leading to more cereals imports.”
DEFRA also released proposals in July advocating higher standards for government departments’ procurement of food. The report, entitled 'A plan for public procurement - food and catering', estimated that around 50% of the £1.2 billion spent by government departments was on imported food. Of this figure, around £400 million might be spent on foods that could be supplied by British farmers through closer collaboration with local processors and food producers.
Improving UK self-sufficiency in foodstuffs will be improved not only by expanding the domestic market for British food but also by developing exports. UK pork exports have more than doubled in the last decade, reaching 259,000 tonnes in 2013. A BPEX report 'The changing mix of UK pig meat exports' highlighted that exports now account for over a quarter of UK production.