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Stackyard News Jan 05
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Campaign Will Aim To Put National Food Security On The UK Election Agenda

A drive to encourage candidates of all parties to take food security seriously in the run up to the next election is being mounted by the Commercial Farmers Group, a think tank of farmers, academics, and agricultural business operators.

The recent publication from the Office of National Statistics showing that food imports rose by 24.6% to £19.1 billion between 1992 and 2002, has prompted the Commercial Farmers Group to renew its warning to Government that Food Security should, once again, have a place high on the national agenda.

The annual balance of payments deficit in food, during the same period, has moved from a deficit of £4.7 billion to £9.8 billion.

CFG spokesman and Yorkshire farmer, Henry Fell, said:

" In April 2004, the Commercial Farmers Group published a Discussion document entitled: Food Security - The pressures on Global Food Supply. In the introduction we said that food security is in the national interest and that, even in these days of apparent plenty, it is something that we take for granted at our peril. We sought to instigate a debate that puts food security firmly on the agenda of everyone engaged in the formation of food and farming policy in the UK and the EU. We now intend to make certain that all candidates in the forthcoming election are made aware of the case for national food security."

In order to structure this debate, a number of key issues were examined: · Climate Change. · Exploding populations in the Third World. And the urgent need to ensure adequate nutrition globally. · Rapidly increasing migration. · Risk of Terrorism.

There was a great deal of positive reaction at the time - although not from Defra who seem to stand by their statement, issued in July 2003, that 'National Food Security is neither necessary nor is it desirable.' The CFG believes that everything that has happened over the past six months convinced them even more that the Government approach is both short term and imprudent to the point of recklessness.

1. Hardly a day passes without further, and increasingly factual, information about Climate Change. Even the snows on Mount Everest are melting rapidly. The effect on low lying areas, often the most productive agriculturally, will be fundamental. 2. Official asylum claims to the UK rose by 13% in the third quarter of 2004. Globally, migration from the Third World countries continues to climb - often, and sadly, it is those most gifted who are seeking better opportunities but leaving the problems unresolved at home. 3. Fuel prices are escalating. Petrol prices in the UK are 10% higher than a year ago. The British Chambers of Commerce has slashed its forecasts of economic growth due to rising oil prices. The UK is running out of North Sea oil and can no longer benefit from higher oil prices. Increasing fuel costs have a significant effect on the cost of imported food. 4. Economic growth in China continues to surge ahead. As standards of living improve, the Chinese (and others in Asia) are moving from a cereal based diet to one which includes meat, a move which increases cereal needs by as much as two and a half times. Sea freight rates to and from China have more than doubled over the last twelve months, and oil imports have doubled over the past four years. 5. Global population increases continue. In 1945, it stood at 2.3 billion. The UN median prediction for 2030 is 9 billion. If these people, mostly living in the developing countries, are not fed they will, either migrate, or go to war, or they will die. There is no new technology in the pipeline which will dramatically increase food production worldwide as happened with cereal production in the green revolution of the 1970's. 6. One consequence of food shortages in the Third World is further damage to the global environment as subsistence farmers are forced to clear timber and then grow crops on soils prone to erosion. 7. Terrorism and the threat of terrorism makes the long food chains being set up by many retailers and food service companies look vulnerable. Reliance placed on meat imports from Asia, South America, and Australia that could easily be produced in the UK present unnecessary risks.

One has to ask, in view of all these factors - why have food imports increased so significantly and the economic deficit on food more than doubled ? The reasons are many and complex but two stand out: · The application of stringent animal and environmental welfare regulations in the UK has succeeded in "exporting" significant quantities of home production, (e.g the pig industry which has lost over 50%), often to those countries where the same costly regulations do not apply, even in the EU. This is entirely self inflicted. · The harsh competition that exists between the main Supermarket chains leading to an ever more intensive search for cheaper supplies worldwide. Price rules in that world.

Everything that has happened since April 2004 - both nationally and globally - convinces us that the need for policies that ensure reasonable food security for the UK, especially in the medium and longer term, is more urgent than ever.

Issued by the Commercial Farmers Group.

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The Commercial Farmers Group is a group of fifteen leading commercial farmers who cover every major agricultural enterprise in the UK, plus the immediate past Director of Midland Bank Agriculture and the Principal of the Harper Adams University College of Agriculture. We do not have any particular connection with any one organisation within the agricultural industry, and we do not have any political affiliations whatsoever. Our sole concern is for the welfare and survival of British Agriculture within the national economy and we work together to explore ways and means of furthering that aim.