Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges faced by the UK - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


How should the UK respond?

32. Given the challenges set out in the previous chapter, the first question we explored was how the UK should respond, both to secure its own food supplies and to make its contribution towards improving the security of global supplies. We will discuss three possible responses—described as the head-in-the-sand, the self-sufficient and the sustainable production approaches—and explain which we believe the Government should adopt. This chapter is concerned with broad approaches, rather than the detail of Defra's policy, which we will cover in chapters 3 and 4.

The head-in-the-sand approach

33. The UK could do little or nothing about its own levels of food production. It could leave other countries to respond to the challenges of increasing food production sustainably, continue to provide agricultural aid for developing countries, and trust in its ability to buy food on a world market. To some, this may seem an irresponsible, even a ridiculous approach—one that is barely worth discussing. However, until very recently, this was essentially the Government's approach. Hilary Benn described the remark, "Well, we can always buy the food from somewhere," as a "caricature" of where some had positioned themselves in the past.[53] The remark, though, is not so very different from comments made by Defra in 2006 in Food Security and the UK: An Evidence and Analysis Paper. This report stated that "food security has become increasingly discussed as a matter of concern in some developed countries, including the UK," [54] but concluded: "As a rich country open to trade, the UK is well placed to access sufficient foodstuffs through a well-functioning world market."[55]

34. An approach that Defra espoused three years ago must at least be worthy of examination. There are certain factors that appear to be in its favour. For a start, the UK is a small country and even a substantial increase in UK production would not make a large contribution to increasing world food supplies. As Chatham House pointed out, "the share of incremental global food demand that can be met from [UK] domestic production is very modest." It commented: "Even today, with its high relative efficiency, the UK's cereals sector accounts for less than 1% of world grain production."[56]

35. Moreover, there are clearly other countries in the world that could make a very significant contribution to increasing world food supplies. Land is a limited commodity. Hilary Benn said that Mark Twain advised people to, "Buy land because they've stopped making it".[57] However, although they certainly have stopped making it, there is still land available for agricultural cultivation. Anastassios Haniotis, from the European Commission, commented: "there is area available in many parts of the world that could come back into production." He cited the examples of Russia, Ukraine and parts of Latin America.[58] In June 2009, the President of Russia issued a press release committing the country to realising its "enormous agricultural potential […] to ensure […] food security for a substantial part of the world population". The press release stated that "in the situation of the current food crisis, development of 20 million hectares of Russian agricultural land, unused since 1991, could be re-launched."[59]

36. The Brazilian Government is also explicit about its country's plans to expand agricultural production. Brazil already makes a significant contribution to the world's food supplies: its beef represents 31% of global exports, its chicken 44.6%, sugar 58.4%, soy-beans 36%, and maize 13%. However, under plans set out in Brazilian Agribusiness Forecasts 2008/2009 and 2018/2019, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) forecasts that these market shares will increase—sometimes considerably—over the next ten years. Beef exports are predicted to almost double to represent 60% of global volume, chicken likewise is expected to double to an astonishing 89.7%, sugar is forecast to rise to 74.3%, soy-beans to 49% and maize to 21.4%.[60] José Garcia Gasques, the General Co-ordinator of Strategic Management at MAPA, was quoted in Farmers Guardian as saying that these figures represented "conservative forecasts" of what Brazil could achieve and that they took into account the global recession, protectionism and climate change.[61]

37. At first glance, it seems as though the challenge of feeding the world up to 2050 could safely be left in the hands of Brazil and other land-rich countries such as Russia. The reality is more complex. During our visit to Brazil, we were told time and again, by Government Ministers, officials, scientists and representatives of the food and farming industry, that there were vast tracts of land in Brazil that could be used for agricultural production, without encroaching on the Amazon rainforest. One estimate put the figure at 144.8 million hectares. To put this in perspective, the total size of the UK is 24 million hectares.

38. We saw for ourselves the scale on which Brazil is capable of producing food stuffs when we visited Farm Pamplona, an hour's drive from Brasilia. The size of the enterprise is 17,308 hectares. It is one of 11 farms owned by the same company, SLC Agricola. Together, these farms cover 220,657 hectares—an area larger than Greater London. The farms are highly organised and geared towards maximising production. At least 50 hectares on Farm Pamplona, and on each of the other 10 farms owned by the company, are assigned to research. The farm also makes use of research carried out by Embrapa, the research agency of MAPA. This enables managers to select high-yielding varieties of crops and employ efficient sowing and harvesting techniques. We were told that SLC Agricola has plans to double its size by purchasing more land and expanding its production.

39. Quite apart from its size, Brazil clearly has a number of strengths as an agricultural producer: notably, its science base, to which we will return later. However, there are also several weaknesses that could prevent it from realising its agricultural potential. The most important of these is its infrastructure. An article in Agra Europe commented: "With planned increases in production, the risk of a collapse in the transportation system for agricultural products increases."[62] We heard about this risk in more detail when we met the Executive Director of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, who, while optimistic about his country's prospects as a large-scale agricultural producer, said that poor railways, waterways and roads were a big problem, as was the capacity of Brazil's largest port, the Port of Santos. He told us that the depth of the Port of Santos meant that it could not be accessed by larger ships. We were also told that links between the MAPA and the Brazilian Ministry of Transport were poor. The Brazilian Agribusiness Association was clear that there needed to be investment in infrastructure, but said that public-private partnerships had not advanced under the current Government of President Lula.

40. Another point that transpired from the meeting with the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, and meetings with the Banco do Brasil and the Brazilian Development Bank among others, was the extent to which Brazilian agricultural expansion is dependent on foreign investment. This was borne out by our visit to Farm Pamplona. Some 51% of SLC Agricola is privately owned: the other 49% is in the hands of shareholders, and the company was clearly keen to attract foreign investors. The Brazilian Agribusiness Association told us that Brazil does not have the capital to keep expanding its agribusiness and said that many agribusinesses had been sold to international companies such as Cargill and Bunge.

41. It is clear that maximising food production does not depend on agriculture alone but also on infrastructure-transport systems, as well as food storage.

42. Another issue is the impact of the proposed increase in production on the environment. Unless the expansion of agricultural production in Brazil and other land-rich countries is carried out sustainably, it will create problems in the long term even as it appears to solve them in the short term. The MAPA representatives we met in Brazil took great pains to impress on us that sustainability was important to them. They told us that increases in production could be achieved without further deforestation—mainly by expanding into the Cerrado, or Savannah, area. In addition, land for arable crops could be freed up by increasing the productivity of the livestock sector. We were told that agricultural zoning was being used to specify which areas of the country could be used to grow certain crops, with the aim of ensuring that the Amazon biome was protected.

43. Our meeting with the Brazilian Environment Secretary, Egon Krakhecke, was, in some senses, encouraging. Brazil is clearly taking a number of measures to reduce deforestation, including by stimulating sustainable rural activities in the Amazon. However, we remain concerned about enforcement. For example, Egon Krakhecke told us that the Government had recently set up restrictions on access to credit for land-owners who failed to comply with environmental legislation such as Brazil's Forest Code, which restricts the amount of land that can be legally deforested. In a different conversation, however, we were told that, although there was a list of people who should be denied access to credit on this basis, the effectiveness of the measure was questionable because the list was not always used.

44. In June 2009, President Lula approved a law that will transfer 67.4 million hectares of land in the Amazon from public into private hands. The law was intended to benefit poor farmers, but there are worries that it may ultimately be exploited by large landowners and result in further deforestation.[63] Rates of deforestation have slowed overall in recent years. However, deforestation is still taking place, and last summer there was a report that deforestation had increased by 64% over the 12 months to August 2008: the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research reported that 3,145 square miles of rainforest had been destroyed since August 2007.[64] We believe that the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment has the best intentions, but we are not convinced that it is in a position to ensure that any expansion in food production is carried out sustainably, particularly given that there does not seem to be a close working relationship between it and MAPA.

45. Another concern is that by concentrating production in a few large countries, the risk of a significant disruption to the world's food supplies increases. If Brazilian chicken exports were to account for 89.7% of the global volume by 2018, the consequences if a problem were to occur with their production could be substantial. MAPA's International Relations Secretary, Célio B. Porto, told us that Brazil had made great efforts to eradicate foot and mouth disease in cattle, but he also explained just how difficult this task was: Brazil has 16,000 km of borders, with 10 countries, some of which do not regard the eradication of foot and mouth disease as that important because they do not export beef. He said that the Brazilian Government is using vaccination to try to create buffer zones along the borders, but the challenge of isolating the disease is huge.

46. Finally, climate change is likely to alter the parts of the world that are most conducive to agricultural production. The UK is not a large country, but it has a relatively good climate for food production and this is likely to remain the case as temperatures rise. Professor Crute, the Director of Rothamsted Research, stated that the countries of north-west Europe enjoyed "extremely favoured environmental conditions" that would probably get more favourable with climate change. He spoke of an obligation "to make sure that we do produce food", explaining that, "we are going to become very important globally in food production and we should not ignore that".[65] Several other witnesses also used the language of "obligation". Professor Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy, spoke of "a moral responsibility to maximise our production, appropriately".[66] He stated: "I think it is inappropriate land use not to produce food when you have got the climate, soil and capability of so doing."[67] Melanie Leech, of the Food and Drink Federation, commented: it "behoves everybody to take advantage of their natural position in the globe".[68] This seems to us common sense. The argument about the UK taking advantage of its natural position in the globe applies also to other parts of Europe. In this context, the EU must recognise the continuing importance of European farmers and the long-term contribution they could make to securing the world's food supplies.

47. The global aspect of securing food supplies is about recognising which countries ought to be doing what and getting an agreement about how these responsibilities should be met. In relation to climate change, the UK has recognised that, although it produces only a small proportion of global emissions, it has a responsibility to contribute towards their reduction. By acknowledging this, the UK has placed itself at the EU and world top table, where it can influence global policies on climate change. The same approach should apply to securing food supplies. Doing nothing to contribute to the world's food supplies would be morally unacceptable: at a time when a fundamental shift in thinking is required, the UK should set an example, not bury its head in the sand. Land-rich countries such as Brazil have great potential to boost global food supplies, but neither their ability to realise this potential, nor a well-functioning global market, can be taken for granted. A healthy domestic agriculture is an essential component of a secure food system in the UK.

The self-sufficient approach

48. The opposite approach is that, instead of relying on potentially vulnerable global markets, the UK could aim to supply all its food needs from its own resources. The countries of the UK have not been self-sufficient—in the strict sense of the term—for more than 200 years.[69] Over the centuries, people in the UK have become accustomed to food stuffs, such as citrus fruit and bananas, that are not grown here. However, as the following tables make clear, the UK is also far from being self-sufficient in indigenous products: in fact, rates of self-sufficiency have been falling fairly consistently since the mid-1990s.

Chart 2: UK self-sufficiency in food (%) for:

DEFRA, Agriculture in the United Kingdom

Chart 3: Estimate of the percentage consumed from domestic production for various commodities

Source: HC Deb, 6 March 2009, cols 1877W-78W

49. The term "self-sufficient" was used frequently in the submissions we received, but no one argued for total self sufficiency. Friends of the Earth described self-sufficiency as "a desirable policy goal for food security and environmental sustainability", but it supported "high self-sufficiency" rather than total self-sufficiency—although it did not explicitly rule out this approach.[70] Others were unequivocal in their dismissal of total self-sufficiency. Monty Don, the President of the Soil Association, commented: "I do not think there is any […] benefit in trying to be 100% self-sufficient."[71]

50. Setting aside the considerable practical difficulties that would be involved in aiming for total, or near total, self-sufficiency, the principal argument against such a policy is that, while most of the country's food supply would be under its own control, the consequences if something were to happen to that food supply would be immense. Hillary Benn gave the hypothetical example of what would happen if a disease affected the UK wheat crop. He stated that, in such circumstances, without trading relationships with other countries, the UK would in be trouble.[72] Andrew Kuyk, Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness at the Food and Drink Federation, made a similar point. He commented that if the UK refocused solely on domestic production and ignored external trade, there could be a "cataclysmic event" such as a major crop failure. He argued that "diversity of supply" was the "key to resilience in those circumstances". [73] This point of view was shared by Defra, which stated that the diversity of the UK's food supply "helps to spread risks from potential disruptions such as terrorism or floods". Defra commented that, in 2006, 26 countries, including the UK, accounted for 90% of the UK's food supplies, up from 22 countries in 1996, and that, currently, 34 countries each supply the UK with at least 0.5% of its food imports. The Netherlands accounts for the highest share with 13%. Defra commented that "the vast majority of our food (69% in value)" comes from "our stable trading partners in the European Union."[74] It should be noted that risk is spread not simply by having trading relationships with a number of different countries, but by ensuring that each commodity comes from a number of different countries.

51. Trading relationships themselves are, as we have already commented, a source of risk. There is no guarantee that even our EU trading relationships will always remain stable. The CLA asked us to consider whether intra-EU trade would continue to operate smoothly in the event of severe shortages of basic food stuffs. It conceded that such shortages were "somewhat unlikely", but suggested that there might be a need to consider contingency plans for dealing with the breakdown of the single market.[75] When we asked Anastassios Haniotis of the European Commission what would happen if EU countries did attempt to take protectionist action in a time of severe food shortages, he was adamant that the Commission would ensure that the rules of the single market were upheld.[76] The CLA's point was that the Commission may not be able to apply sanctions with sufficient speed. The Commission should investigate further what means would be at its disposal in the unlikely event of a breakdown of the single market. However, the fact that trading relationships are fragile is an argument in favour of spreading the risk by having relationships with multiple countries, working to build strong relationships, and having contingency plans, not an argument in favour of self-sufficiency.

52. There is another disadvantage to pursuing a policy of total self-sufficiency: its effect on the global food market. It could be argued that a UK totally self-sufficient in indigenous food stuffs would free up commodities elsewhere in the world, to the benefit of other countries. However, such a policy might be seen to exemplify an "every country for itself" approach—an attitude that is already leading to so-called land-grabbing and would be likely to destabilise the global market in food. The UK should not aim to be self-sufficient, even in indigenous food stuffs. Total self-sufficiency would make the UK's food supplies less secure rather than more secure.


53. In May 2009, the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) published a report on "land-grabbing"—a phenomenon which involves the large-scale acquisition of land overseas by wealthy investors in order to grow food that is often destined for people in the investor country. Land grab or development opportunity? concentrates on sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on the acquisition of land in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and Sudan. However, it comments that "international land deals are emerging as a global phenomenon".[77] It describes the level of activity in the five countries it studied as "significant": it estimates there have been a total of 2,492,684 hectares of approved land allocations since 2004, excluding allocations below 1,000 hectares.[78]

54. While commenting that there could be benefits to host countries, such as improved Government revenues, the report also makes it clear that there are a number of risks, including the possibility that large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security and the danger that investors may not consider the long-term environmental impacts of production. The authors make what they describe as some tentative recommendations to minimise the risks involved in such transactions, but stress that the report should be regarded "as a first step towards improving understanding of the phenomenon" and that "extending research to other regions is expected to be a key next step."[79]

55. When we asked Hilary Benn about the large-scale acquisition of land by overseas investors, he acknowledged that the phenomenon could create difficulties, but overall he seemed fairly complacent, describing the trend as "a sign of the times" and commenting that he could not conceive how there could be an international system for regulating such transactions.[80] We are concerned that Defra is not taking this phenomenon sufficiently seriously. Arrangements of this kind can be between partners of vastly unequal power and offer few guarantees for local people, including shifting cultivators and pastoralists who use land intermittently. An international system of regulation may not be possible, but, as the Land grab or development opportunity? report demonstrates, there is a need for further monitoring of the implications of this new trend.

56. We welcome the recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the International Institute for Environment and Development on the large-scale acquisition of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa by overseas investors. It is a first step towards exploring the implications of this global trend. We urge the bodies involved to continue their work on the phenomenon, with the aim of providing an accurate picture of the extent of the trend and of developing a set of international guidelines that include provisions for local producers, property rights, sustainable management and transparent rules. We note the involvement of Dfid in the initial study and urge it to continue to provide input to subsequent studies. Defra should report on the implications of the trend for UK food security.

The sustainable production approach

57. Although none of the submissions argued for total self-sufficiency, several argued that the UK should increase its production of food. Unilever stated that, given the challenges ahead, there should be "a strong focus on the potential to increase domestic production in a sustainable way".[81] Fruit and vegetables were the focus of most of the submissions that argued for an increase in UK production. Cereals were also mentioned in some submissions, but there was less explicit emphasis on the need for an increase in production.[82] This can be partly explained by the fact that, in the case of some cereals, domestic production already accounts for a high proportion of consumption. As chart 3 in paragraph 48 shows, in 2007, 90% of the wheat consumed in the UK was produced here. Although the following paragraphs concentrate on fruit and vegetables, because that was the focus of the evidence, we believe that the potential to increase UK production of cereals, for export, should also be explored.

58. East Malling Research, a private research organisation supporting the UK fruit-growing industry, was among those concerned about the level of UK fruit and vegetable production, and specifically about the trade deficit in fruit. It commented that the Government's five-a-day campaign drew people's attention to the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, but noted that "the UK's ability to supply itself with fruit, in particular, falls well short of current consumer demand."[83] Like others, it noted that only 10% of the fruit consumed in the UK, by value, is grown here.[84] As well as noting the trade deficit for fruit, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated that for some indigenous vegetables "production is declining even while imports are increasing".[85]

59. There are many statistics that we could use to illustrate these points, but, to prevent the report from becoming a compendium of tables, will we focus on the example of apples:

Table 3: supplies of apples in UK ('000 tonnes); figures for 2007 are provisional

Home production marketed
Total supply
HPM as % of total supply


Table 4: Planted area in the UK for dessert and culinary apples (hectares); figures for 2007 are provisional


Source: adapted from

It will come as no surprise to some people that the planted area for apples declined by about 35% from 13,473 hectares to 8,670 hectares between 1997 and 2007. Leicestershire Food Links described the "depletion of orchards" as one of the weaknesses of the UK food system.[86] However, even though the planted area decreased, production of apples in the UK increased in the same period. Despite the increase in UK production, the proportion of UK production as a percentage of total supply did not change significantly: in 1997, it was 30.4%; in 2007, it was 33%. The figure remained broadly the same because, although there was an increase in demand for apples in the UK, this increase was met by imports, as well as by an increase in domestic production. As we have already explained, we believe that food security is enhanced by having a mix of both domestic production and trade. Moreover, some of the demand for apples will be out of the apple-growing season in the UK and will have to be met by imports. However, for the proportion of UK production as a percentage of total apple supply to have remained largely the same at a fairly low 33%, despite increasing interest among consumers in buying UK-grown fruit, seems to us a wasted opportunity. Defra should commission research to establish the reasons for the relatively low level of domestic fruit and vegetable production. This should include a study of the procurement practices of supermarkets, food manufacturers and the food service industry to establish how these practices impact on the problem. Defra's new Council of Food Policy Advisers should consider how the barriers to increased domestic fruit and vegetable production could be removed.

60. Several submissions pointed out that, not only is UK production of fruit and vegetables low as a proportion of current UK consumption, current consumption is itself low compared with what it would be if people followed healthy eating guidelines. Natural England commented that if UK consumers followed World Health Organisation guidelines, which recommend the consumption of a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day, people would eat 50% more fresh fruit and vegetables than they do at the moment.[87] Natural England's estimate was based on a study entitled Food consumption changes in the UK under compliance with dietary guidelines, which looked at consumption levels in 2003-04 and compared them with target levels.[88] The Fresh Produce Consortium came up with a different figure. It stated that the total volume of fruit and vegetables marketed in the UK in 2006 was 8.1 million tonnes, whereas if people had followed the five-a-day guidelines—which are based on the WHO's guidelines—consumption would be in the region of 8.8 million tonnes.[89] The National Association of British Market Authorities cited Defra's Family Food Survey 2007, which estimated that average consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK was 3.9 portions. However, 3.9 portions may be a generous estimate of actual consumption. The Cabinet Office report, Food: an analysis of the issues, noted that although purchases of fruit and vegetables have reached an average of four portions a day, actual consumption "may be much lower than this".[90] Defra should produce its own estimate of the amount by which consumption of fruit and vegetables would rise if people in the UK followed the Government's five-a-day guidelines.

61. There is a big difference between aiming to be self-sufficient and aiming to increase production of certain commodities. The UK should aim to increase its production of those fruit and vegetables that are suited to being grown here, particularly where there is evidence of an increase in demand. It should also explore the potential for an increase in cereal production. However, again, we emphasise that it is essential that this increase in production is carried out sustainably.


62. The WWF urged the Government to support an increase in demand for UK fruit and vegetables, but it also wanted a decrease in meat and dairy consumption. Compassion in World Farming pointed to health reasons for reducing consumption of these commodities, but it also cited two main issues with the sustainability of intensive livestock farming. The first was the "wasteful" use of resources such as land, water and fossil fuel energy. It commented that several kilograms of cereals needed to be fed to animals to produce one kilogram of meat and stated: "People could be fed much more efficiently if those cereals were used for direct human consumption."[91] It commented that "it takes up to 2.6 kg of feed to produce 1kg of chicken meat, 6.5 kg of feed to produce 1kg of pig meat and 7kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef".[92] The amount of feed needed to produce 1kg of edible meat—excluding the parts of the animal that are not eaten such as bone—is even higher. The second issue was that "the livestock sector is a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions".[93] A 2006 report by the FAO estimated that, globally, livestock production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing a larger share than emissions from transport.[94] The figure of 18% includes land-use changes, such as deforestation, driven by the need to expand pastures and arable land for feed crops. Professor Lang told us that the "strong evidence", on the grounds of climate change alone, was that "we need to reduce meat and dairy consumption". He added: "That therefore implies that we have to reduce production."[95]

63. The issue of reducing UK meat and dairy production is, as Professor Lang acknowledged "contentious". It is also far from straightforward. Professor Lang asked: "If British dairy production went down or meat production went down would the British consumer demand it and merely get it from elsewhere?"[96] If consumers want meat and dairy products, someone in the world will produce them. Unless the issue of consumption is addressed, a reduction in UK production would simply export the problems associated with intensive livestock farming to another part of the globe.

64. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between different types of meat, which have different environmental impacts, and between intensive production and other methods of livestock production. Compassion in World Farming argued that attempting to feed the growing population by increasing intensive livestock farming was "not a realistic strategy", but commented that a "more judicious approach" would be "to re-orient the world's animal production away from industrial farming and towards lower-input, more extensive systems."[97] Of course, lower-input livestock systems still produce greenhouse gas emissions—in some cases, they may even produce more greenhouse gas emissions. An article in The Guardian reported that battery-reared chicken was the least greenhouse gas-intensive meat. Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network, was quoted as saying:

    If you keep an animal in a very small space, don't let it expend any energy on exercising, feed it up really quickly and kill it within 40 days, it is going to be energy efficient. However, from an animal welfare point of view it is certainly not something I would endorse.[98]

The quote draws attention to another issue that makes this a particularly complex debate: the need to consider animal welfare.

65. Peter Kendall, the President of the NFU, commented that it was "an over-simplified analysis to say that meat is bad and grain is good."[99] Fertilisers, rather than livestock production, are the largest single source of emissions from agriculture. According to The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, fertilisers account for 38% of agricultural emissions.[100] Thus arable farmers also have a large part to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, livestock production can have environmental benefits. Natural England stated: "fewer numbers of livestock in the dairy and meat sectors may reduce greenhouse gas emissions but could have negative impacts on landscape character and biodiversity."[101] A study funded by the Research Councils' Rural Economy and Land Use programme found that a fall in livestock production could lead to the abandonment of some upland areas.[102] This would have consequences for biodiversity. UK consumers buying meat and dairy products should be encouraged to consider the environmental, as well as the health, impacts of their choices. To enable consumers to make informed decisions, Defra needs to do more work on what are the most sustainable methods of livestock production, and the balance to be struck between animal welfare, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to conserve inputs such as water.


66. The Marine Conservation Society stated: "Globally, fisheries supply over 2.6 billion people with at least 20% of their average protein intake." However, it also drew attention to the poor condition of many fish stocks. It commented: "Around the British Isles only eight out of 47 fish stocks are known to be in a healthy state, and thus the UK faces a serious challenge to secure food supplies sustainably from the marine environment."[103] It stated that in the EU as a whole, 88% of stocks were overfished.[104] It is to be hoped that major reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will make EU fisheries more sustainable. However, this will be a lengthy process—the consultation on the CFP reform green paper has just begun—and its results are by no means guaranteed.

67. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) commented that, although in the longer term it was expected that UK fish stocks would recover, there was no certainly that they would reach previous levels, due to changes in the marine environment and to climate change.[105] It stated that, although healthy eating guidelines recommended the consumption of two portions of fish a week, UK citizens were currently only eating one portion of fish a week on average. If the guidelines were to be followed, the supply of fish would need to double. The NFFO noted that the ability of the global market to meet increased demand in the UK was "by no means guaranteed", because the Pacific, which had provided much of the increased catch in the past, was starting to be over-exploited and because aquaculture would be unlikely to be able to continue its rapid expansion. The Marine Conservation Society pointed out that two of the top five seafood species we eat in the UK are farmed-salmon and warm water prawn, both of which are carnivorous and rely on wild capture fisheries to provide their food. Current food conversion ratios mean that their production results in a net loss of ocean biomass.[106] The NFFO added that domestic requirements in emerging economies were likely to reduce the amount, and type, of fish on the international market. It commented: "The need is to encourage the consumption of fish and shellfish, that, at the present time, consumers are unwilling to try."[107]

68. The marine environment is an important source of food. However, the current state of many fish stocks is a serious cause for concern. Defra, the Department of Health and the Food Standard Agency should consider the wisdom of continuing to advise consumers to eat at least two portions of fish a week at a time when the ability of the marine environment to meet this demand is questionable. The fishing industry and the Government have a duty to encourage consumers to try sustainable, less well-known types of fish and shellfish. Defra and the devolved Administrations should produce a study evaluating the potential of sustainable aquaculture off the shores of the UK.


69. We have said that the UK should aim to increase its production of certain commodities, but in a sustainable way. During our inquiry, we encountered widespread awareness of the environmental and resource challenges that need to be considered when increasing production. However, when it came to the detail of the impact of increased production, there was much less certainty. Natural England told us that it had not done any work on the consequences for biodiversity of a push for increased yields and the cultivation of more land for arable production. Andrew Wood from Natural England said that he dearly wished he had a computer model to enable him to do this work. When pressed about the consequences of a push for increased yields, he replied: "I am not—and I do not believe anybody else is—in a position to tell you that."[108]

70. An increase in production is inevitably going to have some environmental impacts. The NFU acknowledged as much when it stated: "we do not accept the view that any increase in production need come at an unacceptable environmental cost."[109] We, too, do not accept the view that any increase in production need come at an unacceptable environmental cost. However, until there is greater knowledge of what the environmental costs could be, it is impossible to distinguish the acceptable from the unacceptable. Defra should produce a study setting out the volume of particular commodities that the UK would be capable of producing under different scenarios and the impact that this production would have on the environment. This study into "The UK's Agricultural Potential" should include work on the most sustainable methods of both arable and livestock production.


71. So far, we have discussed the potential to increase production in a sustainable way at a national level. Several submissions argued for the importance of local food networks and home production—either in gardens or on allotments. Both local and home production have increased in popularity in recent years: a survey by the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners estimated that 100,000 people are on the waiting list for an allotment in Britain.[110] Both types of production have benefits for the security of food supplies. The President of the Soil Association, Monty Don, stated: "If you can devolve production and consumption so that they are as close together as possible, and the obvious example of that are farmers' markets or farm gate sales, that is a healthy, very flexible way of supply and demand."[111] The supply and demand relationship is even closer in the case of home production. Garden Organic, an organisation that supports organic gardening, emphasised the benefits of home food production, stating that it "can contribute towards ensuring food security by providing access to affordable fruit and vegetables for people".[112] Local food networks and home production also have the advantage of reducing emissions from transport—a point made by Friends of the Earth.[113] One aspect of the interest in local produce that could be explored further is the potential to make more use of traditional sources of food which have declined in popularity in the second half of the twentieth century, such as rabbits. An article in the Daily Mirror reported that sales of rabbit had soared in one area of the UK, partly because rabbit was seen as a cheaper meat, but also because of the initiative of a local farmer.[114]

72. There is another, even stronger, argument in favour of local and home food production. Garden Organic commented: "Active involvement in food production, at whatever scale, is vital in terms of reconnecting people with the food they eat." Monty Don expressed a similar view, stating that the "process of growing a pot of chives on a windowsill is actually a huge leap in connecting people to the food that they eat".[115] We have already seen that increasing production sustainably—on a national and global level—will have to involve consumers changing their behaviour. Waitrose argued that a "sea change in consumer behaviour" was needed to guarantee the sustainability of UK producers.[116] Consumers will need to think more about the impacts of the way in which their food is produced, and the Government will have to encourage them to do so. This is a formidable task, but it will be rendered less formidable if consumers are engaged with the concept of food production in the first place.

73. Schools have a role to play in this context. Lord Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director, described the work of the Food for Life Partnership, which is led by the Soil Association and operates in a network of schools across England. The schools are encouraged to source their food locally and pupils grow vegetables that can be used for school meals. Pupils learn about food "as part of a whole range of lessons in their curriculum" and make regular visits to farms that supply their school with food. [117]

74. We welcome the increasing enthusiasm among consumers for buying food that is local to a particular area of the UK, and also for growing their own food. In terms of overall production, these trends are a small contribution to a huge challenge, but they are a way of reconnecting people with food production and have an important part to play in encouraging the sort of changes in consumer behaviour that will be necessary for a sustainable system of food production. The role of local and home production, and of educating children about food, should be incorporated in Defra's vision and strategy for food. When it has been established that there is an unmet demand for allotments in a local authority area, the Government should require the local authority to publish, within three years, a plan setting out how it proposes to meet the demand.

53   Q 544 Back

54   Defra, Food Security and the UK: An Evidence and Analysis Paper, 2006, p 4 Back

55   Food Security and the UK, p 32 Back

56   Ev 46 Back

57   Q 523 Back

58   Q 478 Back

59 Back

60   "Brazilian agriculture is set to take on the rest of the world", Farmers Guardian, 13 February 2009 Back

61   As above. Back

62   "Are the winds changing for Brazilian agriculture", Agra Europe, 22 August 2008 Back

63   "Brazil grants land rights to squatters living in Amazon rainforest",, 26 June 2009 Back

64   "Brazil: Deforestation rises sharply as farmers push into the Amazon", The Guardian, 1 September 2008, p 17 Back

65   Q 186 Back

66   Oral evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 11 December 2008, HC (2008-09) 266-I, p 7 Back

67   As above, p 5 Back

68   Q 252 [Ms Leech] Back

69   The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-sufficient as "able to provide enough of a commodity (as food, oil) to supply one's own needs, without obtaining goods from elsewhere". Back

70   Ev 441 Back

71   Q 411 Back

72   Q 576 Back

73   Q 252 [Mr Kuyk] Back

74   Ev 210 Back

75   Ev 119 Back

76   Q 521 Back

77   Land grab or development opportunity?, May 2009, p 3 Back

78   Land grab or development opportunity?, p 4. The authors of the report stress that data on land acquisitions is scarce and often of limited reliability, so the figures in the report should be treated with caution. Back

79   As above, p 17 Back

80   Q 552 Back

81   Ev 100 Back

82   Evs 275, 294 Back

83   Ev 335 For further examples of this viewpoint, see also Evs 336, 166 Back

84   Ev 335. See also Evs 43, 311 Back

85   Ev 341 Back

86   Ev 371 Back

87   Ev 147 Back

88   M. H. Arnoult, Food consumption changes in the UK under compliance with dietary guidelines, June 2006 Back

89   Ev 404 Back

90   Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, Food: an analysis of the issues, January 2009, p 36 Back

91   Ev 280 Back

92   Ev 281 Back

93   Ev 280 Back

94   FAO, Livestock's long shadow: environmental issues and options, 2006, p xxi Back

95   Q 12 Back

96   As above Back

97   Ev 280 Back

98   "Eat your greens", The Guardian, 7 June 2007, p 18 Back

99   Q 308 Back

100   Nicholas Stern, Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, October 2006, annex 7g  Back

101   Ev 147 Back

102   "Meeting 5-a-day could hit landscapes hard", Farmers Weekly, 22 May 2009, p 16 Back

103   Ev 291 Back

104   Ev 291 Back

105   Ev 113 Back

106   Ev 293 Back

107   Ev 113 Back

108   Qq 351-52 Back

109   Ev 123 Back

110   "Allotment waiting lists reach up to 40 years", Daily Telegraph, 2 June 2009, p 14 Back

111   Q 412 Back

112   Ev 352 Back

113   Ev 446 Back

114   Daily Mirror, 25 May 2009, p 27 Back

115   Q 413 Back

116   Ev 436 Back

117   Q 415 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 21 July 2009