The agricultural think tank, the Commercial Farmers Group, is once again pressing the government to support policies which retain a UK agricultural industry big and effective enough to ensure national food security.
The CFG wants the industry and politicians to put food security higher up the agenda. It fears the government is complacent about the capability of overseas farmers to produce endless supplies of cheap food.
Leading farmers and academics, involved in the group, have produced a hard-hitting campaign pamphlet to push home the message. They argue that such long and tenuous supply chains bringing chicken, pork and beef to the UK from Thailand, Brazil and other far-flung producers, leave the UK vulnerable to rising fuel costs and the transport disruption caused by global terrorism.
With UK food self sufficiency in decline, there are serious doubts about the country’s ability to cope with demand if a global or national crisis hits. The pamphlet poses a number of questions and states:
“Do you really believe, in the event of a global or national crisis, that it will be possible to re-start UK agriculture once self sufficiency has dropped to between 60 and 65%?
“We did it in 1939, why not again? For the good reason that the situation today is totally different. In 1939, we had plenty of people on the land, farming had continued albeit in deep depression.
Today, young people have left the industry; the average age of those still farming is near 60; support from R & D is at a minimal level; and, most importantly, the industry infrastructure, including the vital processing sector, is withering away. Nothing is impossible but the reinvigoration would need great external investment in both capital and skills.”
Henry Fell, chairman of CFG and a Lincolnshire farmer, told farmers attending the Worshipful Company of Farmers dinner, that he believed the security of the whole nation is at stake if food policies were not urgently addressed.
“Is it not remarkable that we worry ourselves sick about atomic power but don’t give a damn about the risks of global food security? Why is the industry so weak in putting its case?” he said.
Mr Fell also reminded the audience of a statement made by the Department for International Development, which contradicted government farming policy and supported the campaign for greater food security.
“Hunger sows the seeds of conflict… scare food, water and land lead to environmental damage, poverty, conflict and migration. Improved agriculture is a powerful and effective means of promoting peace. When food is plentiful, hunger driven conflicts and civil unrest are less likely.”
In 2003 DEFRA caused widespread dismay when it said that “national food security is neither necessary, nor is it desirable.” The CFG’s aim is to get the government to reverse that view.
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