Invest £100m or risk food shortages, DEFRA told

DEFRA must invest £100m in agricultural research if the UK is going to meet its “moral obligation” to increase food production, according to an influential committee of MPs.

In a report on food security, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said an “urgent increase” in spending on food and farming research was needed if the UK was to help secure global food supplies.

Without it, the government risked spiralling food prices and shortages, it added.

“DEFRA must tackle existing weaknesses in the UK food system,” Michael Jack, EFRA Committee chairman, said.

“This challenge will not be met unless DEFRA properly safeguards out world-class agricultural science base.

“A clear plan of action is needed now, not the formation of ever more government-run committees.”

Mr Jack said DEFRA must ensure UK farmers had the support and resources they needed to increase agricultural production

It should help farmers make the most of the country’s climate and “natural advantages” for producing food, as well as helping the industry respond to market signals to reduce food shortages, the report added.

“The UK can play a leading role in both Europe and globally in making sure that our farmers and food industry can contribute towards meeting the challenge of a world that will need to double its food output by 2050,” Mr Jack said.

“Every region of the UK has a contribution to make.”

While increasing food supplies was vital, the committee said DEFRA should not implement food production targets or command farmers to increase output of specific crops.

Increased production must also be coupled with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuel-derived outputs, as well as conserving soil and water, it added.

“DEFRA must show real leadership in ensuring that all parts of government play their role in meeting this challenge,” Mr Jack said.

“It will take national, European and global co-operation – not confrontation – if the world is to feed itself sustainably in the future.”

Food security will be the subject of discussion at the Farmers Weekly debate at the Game Fair on Friday (24 July).

The debate will bring together a high-profile panel of speakers: NFU president Peter Kendall, FW columnist David Richardson, CLA president Henry Aubrey Fletcher and Natural England chief exec Helen Phillips.

The question they’ll address will be “Should we be worrying about food security in Britain?” and the audience will have a chance to take part and make their own views heard.

The debate, entry to which is free for anyone already in the Game Fair, takes place in the Game Fair Theatre (E607) at 4.15pm on Friday, 24 July.

You can listen to a radio interview of FW’s Tim Relf previewing the debate (plus previews of a selection of other debates) on Game Fair Radio.

If you can’t make it to the Game Fair, which takes place at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, but have a question you’d like asked to the panel, or a point you’d like made, you can add them to the thread on the subject on our website forums.