Food security should be ‘central tenet’ of land use plans

The UK government should enshrine food security as a “central tenet” of its eagerly awaited Land Use Framework for England, MPs have said.

In a 70-page report released on Friday 8 December, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said ministers must set out how land will balance sustainable production that supports a resilient food system, while also responding to environmental change.

For example, extreme weather events in the UK last year made it harder for farmers to grow crops such as broccoli or cauliflower.

See also: Government snubs MPs’ call for annual UK food security summit

Where possible, the committee recommends that land should be shared between competing uses, including food production, carbon sequestration, restoring nature and growing energy crops.

To support sustainability, the government should also publish a strategy for innovative food production technologies, such as more resilient crop varieties, vertical farming, using drones to grow crops, or developing fertilisers from waste, the EAC recommends.

The government has committed to producing a Land Use Framework (LUF) for England before the end of the year, which will set out its plans for agriculture, the environment and net zero, helping to guide farmers on how they can contribute towards the UK’s environmental and nature goals.

EAC chairman Philip Dunne, also Conservative MP for Ludlow, said: “Food security is clearly a public good and should become an explicit goal of the Environmental Land Management [ELM] schemes to incentivise farmers to champion a sustainable food system.

“It is clear to the committee that food security must be a central tenet: delivering this promptly could make a critical difference in transforming the government’s ambition for food into reality.”

Fragility of imports

Farming organisations including the NFU and others have urged the government to take domestic food production more seriously as it does with the environment.

Global food challenges, the impact of climate change and the war in Ukraine have exposed the fragility of an over-reliance on food imports.

The NFU has repeatedly called on the government to introduce legislation to ensure the UK’s food self-sufficiency does not slip below 60% – but the government has so far refused to heed the calls, committing only to “broadly maintain” the presented level of food produced domestically.

The EAC recommends that the government should designate food security as a public good and make food security a more explicit consideration in its design of ELM schemes.

Last week, Defra unveiled the second round of Landscape Recovery – the third component of ELM – with funding for 34 projects which will see more than 700 farmers working together with their communities to deliver nature projects across 200,000ha.

But the announcement made no mention of food security in the LUF.

Defra response

Responding to the EAC report, a Defra spokesman said: “Sustainable food production and caring for the environment go hand in hand.

“This is why our farming reforms are designed to support a highly productive food producing sector, meeting our commitment to maintain food production, alongside delivering environmental improvements such as improving water quality and species abundance.

“Our Land Use Framework will set out how we can use land more effectively to meet our food security objectives and environmental and wider net-zero targets. It will be published in due course.”

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