The National Beef Association is hoping Government can be persuaded to adopt a radically new approach to domestic food production, and food security, when it studies a report expected to be released by the Government’s Chatham House think-tank next month.
It is understood that Chatham House is to forecast a food supply crisis occurring sometime in the next ten years, and that the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the Cabinet response now could swing the outcome of future elections for the Labour Party.
The source of this new pessimism is the mounting strain on the UK’s food system due to rapid changes in supply patterns. The main concerns are driven by widespread fears surrounding climate change, rising energy costs, and a forecast that after years of relative stability the UK’s population could soar from just over 60 million people to 70 million over the next decade.
“In a move that ought to encourage farmers to think that their role as food producers is, at last, about to be properly appreciated, Chatham House is to warn Government and consumers that the current food supply system, which is based on serving a multitude of individual preferences with a host of unsustainably low cost items, may have to be consigned to history,” said NBA director, Kim Haywood.
“Current thinking is that it should be replaced with one in which Government, farmers, processors and retailers work together to ensure that the food on offer reflects the wider needs of society.”
“These include production systems that are sustainable in both energy and carbon efficiency terms – and one assumes they must be economically sustainable too - with farmers no longer turning out food for less than the cost of production.”
According to the NBA, the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, is expected to confirm that rising world prices, and increasing international demand, mean it is no longer possible for the UK to take its food supply for granted, and there is a need to install a national food supply system which is reliable and able to survive shocks and crises.
“Chatham House appears certain that the UK Government will have to revise its approach to the challenge of ensuring that sufficient food is made available for the nation over the next ten years,” said Ms Haywood.
“But even now Government appears to be more concerned about rising food costs for consumers than it is over the reliability of future supplies.”
“However if the Government examines the UK’s vulnerability to a squeeze on food imports, the increasing shortage of agricultural labour, and the rising pressure on global use of increasingly scarce fossil fuels and water, it ought to be persuaded to reverse its priorities, and the imminent Chatham House report should further that persuasion.”
“It is also well known that consumers in emerging economies, like China and India, are buying more meat and dairy products, which will put even more pressure on both human food and animal feed prices, at the same time as the higher cost of food is persuading more countries, like Argentina with its own beef, to resurrect protectionism and reduce the volumes exported.”
“In these circumstances the task facing UK farmers must surely be to demonstrate to Government as emphatically as possible that output of beef, milk, lamb and grain, as well as arable and horticultural crops, can only be maintained through sustainable methods as long as retail prices cover all the costs faced by efficient producers and processors,” Ms Haywood added.
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