FOOD IMPORTS have risen by almost 25% since the early 1990s, according to figures published by a government department this week.

The Office of National Statistics has published data which show that between 1992 and 2002, imports of food rose by 24.6% to £19.1bn.

At the same time exports fell by 10.1%, which means that the net trade balance for food products increased from a deficit of £4.7bn in 1992 to a deficit of £9.8bn in 2002.

The figures confirm farmers’ fears that more and more imported food is coming into the country and there is certainly evidence that this trend has not changed in the past 24 months.

For example, the Meat and Livestock Commission estimates 226,000t of beef and veal was imported into the UK in 2002 and this rose to 265,600t last year.

But its latest figures suggest that the figures for 2004 will be even higher. During Jan-Aug 2004 there was 183,200t of beef imported into Britain which is 11,600t more than during the same period in 2003.

The picture is similar for imports of pork and lamb which are both significantly higher than for the same period in 2003.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said he was certainly worried by the level of imports coming into the UK.

food security

“It is clear that this government is pretty relaxed about the issue of food security. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t share this view.

“The more imports we have the more risk we have of being made vulnerable if the world’s supermarket shuts up shop.”

Mr Forster added that it was nave of the government to think that more food could be imported and called for a national strategy on food security.

Henry Fell, spokesman for the Commercial Farmers Group, agreed that while some imports were goods that could not be grown or produced in the UK, many were not.

“Over a 10-year period we have lost a huge percentage of our pig industry to Eastern European producers,” he said. “The attitude seems to be that the world is full of cheap food, we have a strong economy, so we might as well import it.

“But the danger is that this is entirely short term. To cut back production in this country is imprudent.”

The import figures were included in an analysis of the UK food sector published in the ONS’s Economic Trends magazine. The article also concludes that the food sector is failing to keep pace with the UK’s overall economic growth.