New government farm support schemes weighted towards the environment and the countryside risk UK food security, a major new report suggests.
The independent report, commissioned by the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and launched at its annual conference in Peterborough on Wednesday 15 November, warns that none of the planned or ratified agricultural policies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are “food-centric”.
Its author, Marcus Bellet-Travers, of Anglia Ruskin University, is concerned it could make them hostile to food security and dietary-health policies.
“The danger is that the agricultural systems that arise as a result of policy will gravitate towards a small number of low environmental-impact crops that will severely restrict food security and further reduce diversity in the UK diet,” Dr Bellet-Travers said.
This and other issues raised in the report had led the AIC to call for the establishment of an independent food security committee to advise the UK and devolved governments.
That statutory body would report to parliament on the progress made in enhancing the productivity and resilience of the UK’s entire agri-food supply chain – from pre-farm suppliers, farmers and growers through to processors, manufacturers, food service and retailers.
The AIC’s chief executive, Robert Sheasby, said unprecedented supply chain shocks in recent years had exposed the fragility of the UK’s food supply and “its deeply concerning lack of security”.
“It is the sheer breadth and complexity laid out by this report that has led the AIC to call for the establishment of an independent UK food security committee,” he said.
It would enhance national food security in the long term beyond short-term parliamentary cycles, he added.
“Developing a clear strategy for food security would provide the certainty businesses desperately need in order to invest in the UK, facilitating investment in integrated pest management, nitrogen use efficiency, as well as innovation in animal feed and precision breeding.”
This demand will form a central pillar of the AIC’s lobbying efforts ahead of the next UK general election.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) is backing the call. Chief executive George Dunn said unlike legal targets that exist for environmental outcomes, there was nothing equivalent targeting food security.
“A legally established UK food security committee would give food security the prominence it deserves as part of delivering a healthy and resilient nation,” he said.
The report does acknowledge that the UK government recognises the importance of food security and regularly reviews the state of the national food production and supply chain.
However, a food security report it is obligated to publish every three years under the 2020 Agriculture Act has yet to surface this year; it was due to be published on 24 September 2023 and an extension was then granted until 27 October.
Defra has been approached for comment.