Consumers will have to get used to paying a price for food which meets the cost of production, farm minister Jim Paice has said.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Mr Paice said the era of cheap food was over and prices had to become fairer if farmers were to meet the challenge of producing more whilst impacting less on the environment.
“We are facing a period where we will see very real food inflation over the coming years,” he told audience members at a Campaign for the Protection of Rural England fringe event on Monday (3 October).
“It means we have to realise the cost we pay for food has to meet the cost of production.”
Mr Paice said farmers could help themselves to receive fairer prices by taking advantage of growing consumer interest in buying local food, as well as working across the whole food industry to cut supply chain costs.
“The challenge is that encouraging people to buy local has to be more than philanthropic support of local businesses,” he said.
“We need to make people realise it’s in their self-interest and that of the community to buy local and that it’s competitive, better quality and so on.”
Mr Paice said it could be cheaper for public bodies to source local food as smaller, local supply chains could be more economical than larger, national ones.
“Public bodies spend a fortune on food and a lot of that is bought under centrally-arranged contracts. That needs to change,” he said.
“We get carried away with the idea that things will be cheaper if they’re bought centrally, but it doesn’t need to cost more to buy local.
“If you can strip down the supply chain you can make it cheaper.
“We have got to look at ways to make the food chain more efficient to rip out the costs that are making food more expensive. Often local food can be just as cheap.”
Mr Paice’s comments came after Paul Kelly, ASDA external affairs director, said British consumers’ relationship with food had been transformed over the past decade.
“The interest in local food has been driven by consumers and good retailers – whatever their size – will respond to that,” he said.
“Our local food sales have hit £1bn and the challenge now is to hit £0.5bn a year by 2013. The potential is definitely there.”
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