LATEST TRADE figures show a dramatic 12% decline over the past decade in the UK”s self-sufficiency in staple foods like meat and fresh vegetables.

DEFRA”s annual Agriculture in the UK publication shows that the UK was 86% self-sufficient in indigenous-type foods in 1994, but by 2004 this had fallen to 74%.

The document also shows that the value of food, animal feed and drink imported into the UK far exceeds the value exported. In 2003, close to 21bn worth of food, drink and feed was imported while exports were worth just under 10bn.

SUPERMARKET SWEEP

A survey of a supermarket in south-west London carried out this week backed up the findings. Of nine varieties of eating apples on sale only two were British. A scan of the shelves also found potatoes from Israel, cabbage from Spain and dwarf beans from Ethiopia.

Figures supplied by DEFRA show France was the main beneficiary of the UK”s appetite for imported food, netting 3.8bn worth of business for its farm industry in 2003.

Other big exporting countries to the UK were the Netherlands (3.2bn), Irish Republic (2.5bn), Germany (2.2bn) and Spain (1.4bn).

The main destinations for food and feed exported by the UK were the Irish Republic (2bn), France (1.6bn), USA (1.5bn), Spain (1bn) and Germany (1.1bn).

The main products shipped out were cereals such as wheat and barley.

DAMAGE

James Paice, Tory spokesman for agriculture and rural affairs, said the UK”s dramatic decline in self-sufficiency had damaged farm incomes, the environment and animal welfare.

Emma Hockridge, project officer for the food and farming group Sustain, added that every effort should be made to reverse the trend on environmental as well as economic grounds.

“You have to look at the effect of food miles and how that is contributing to climate change,” she said.

“Global food trade can also bring difficulties for poorer countries, as sometimes the money does not get back to producers.

” A DEFRA spokeswoman said UK farmers were still providing over 70% of food on the public”s plates and “that is a healthy market share for any industry”.

A rise in land prices which had pushed up production costs, measures introduced to tackle BSE and cheaper European imports were some of the factors behind the trend, she said.

“A decrease in the numbers of the total agricultural workforce is a further reason why the UK is 12% less self-sufficient in foods over the past decade,” she added.