NFU urges action on food production

THE widening gap between UK food production and demand could mean shortages unless the Government acts to reverse the trend, the leader of the National Farmers’ Union warned yesterday.

In a New Year message, NFU president Peter Kendall said that, while farmers were not opposed to trade, it was in the national interest for more of the UK’s food to be produced at home.

“The UK’s own population is set to grow from today’s 62million to over 70m by 2030,” said Mr Kendall. “If home production levels stay the same, we’ll become ever more dependent on imports.

“As it is, we’re already buying in more than 40% of our food, up from around 25% 20 years ago. With eight million more mouths to feed we’ll be edging towards one in every two meals coming, in effect, from food grown abroad.

“I’m not suggesting we need to take an isolationist approach to food production. We’re a trading nation and trade is also vital to our food security; it ensures variety, and is an opportunity for the industry too. But if we’re going to ensure food supplies for UK consumers it is in our national interest to produce more in the UK.”

Mr Kendall added: “What worries me is not the Government’s commitment to ensuring big picture, global food security, but its commitment to ensuring that local food supply here at home is encouraged and enabled.

“A narrow localist agenda could pose a serious threat to the growth we need, whether from state-of-the-art polytunnels for soft-fruit production, high-output glasshouses for vegetables, or the latest in lower carbon, high welfare, pig and poultry units. Localism needs leadership otherwise it is nothing more than a recipe for Nimbyism. That is why it is absolutely crucial that the Government includes food production as a strategic priority in its new national planning framework.”

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He concluded: “Farmers are ready to rise to the challenge and invest in their businesses. Let 2011 be the year in which the Government takes its own commitment to increasing food production seriously and, instead of relying on imports to fill the food gap, puts in place a policy framework that will enable Britain’s producers to keep up with demand.

“Planning is one example, and a litmus test of how seriously the Government takes this commitment. ”