Josh Wright: Food security crucial in face of coronavirus

I wonder if Tim Leunig is sat at home watching the news of the spread of coronavirus and feeling ever so slightly embarrassed about his comments that Britain doesn’t need its food and farming industry.

How can a government adviser have those kinds of views?

The farming industry may only account for 1% of the workforce in this country, but the wider contributions it makes stretch much further and are much more important than that.

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Farming first

Agriculture is the foundation of many businesses that provide jobs for many more people than the 1% that are directly involved in the activity of farming.

Many businesses rely on farming as a mainstay of their income. The effects on the economy if farming was to cease operating would be astronomical.

The agri-food sector employs four million people in great Britain, or 14% of the total number of employees in the country. What will those four million people do if the farming industry closes down?

The loss of tax revenue to the Treasury would be crippling, to start with. These people would then need to retrain and find other jobs, costing the economy further.

Bargaining chip 

It is worrying that the people who are advising the government can be so narrow-minded that they think farming is something that can be negotiated against, or even forgotten about, without realising the wider implications the industry has on the economy.

In a crisis such as we are seeing now with the coronavirus, people are panicking and the shelves are empty.

Imagine a world where you were relying on a ship to bring the whole of your food supply from a country with a serious disease outbreak.

Or what if there is a bigger disaster like a crop failure and the country you’re buying your food from is short one year? The likelihood of your shipment turning up is slim – governments will always feed their own people first.

Secure supply

Food security is going to be high on the agenda now; as this pandemic develops, people will see that we need a secure domestic food supply, and a food supply chain that isn’t so reliant on importing food.

Sustainability and food miles will be forgotten, but in a time of crisis, food security is at the top of everyone’s shopping list.

I hope the pandemic doesn’t get much worse, but it could shed some light on the fact that we need the country to support the farming industry and develop a food chain that is resilient against things like this.

Every cloud, no matter how dark, has a silver lining. Time will tell whether that silver lining is beneficial to farmers or not.

One thing is for sure, with friends like Tim Leunig in the government, we don’t need enemies.