Former MI5 boss says urgent action needed on food security

Food production in the UK has been taken for granted for too long and now constitutes a weakness in the nation’s security, the former head of MI5 has warned.

Delivering the fifth Henry Plumb Memorial Lecture in London on Monday (28 November), Baroness Manningham-Buller insisted that food production was a key part of national security – “including the essential workers who grow and harvest it to produce grain, meat, vegetables and fruit”.

See also: Food security moves to heart of Scottish government policy

“I would say that we have taken for granted that we will find whatever we want on the shelves of our supermarkets – both home-grown and imports,” she said.

“Shortages have generally been brief. But anyone paying attention should have noticed some of the pressure our farmers are under.

“The doubling of fertiliser prices, soaring energy costs, shortages of seasonal workers, plus apprehension about trade deals that may favour places where farming standards are low and imported supplies liable to disruption – all are impacting the farmers that produce our food and we urgently need policy to address this.”


Baroness Manningham-Buller identified three broad challenges that farmers are facing around the world: climate change, Covid and conflict.

The three were working together to make food production more challenging, damage global economies, threaten food availability and ultimately drive mass migration.

“Unless we pay serious and thorough attention to our food security, we risk being increasingly subject to shocks from climate, conflict and any future pandemic,” she said.

“We cannot protect ourselves fully from those shocks, but we need to acknowledge that we should produce as much of our own food as possible, and to be able to export what we can, both for growth in the UK economy and to help feed the world.”


Responding to the lecture, NFU president Minette Batters said she was pleased to hear the Baroness say what the NFU has been highlighting for a number of years.

“We must take British food security more seriously, particularly in a time when global volatility is threatening the stability of the world’s food production, food security and energy security,” she said.

“We need our government to honour the commitments made by prime minister Rishi Sunak to set a target for our nation’s food security, with a statutory duty to report on domestic food levels.”

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