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


The projections made at the FAO food security conference
1.At the World Food Security Conference in Rome, it was announced that there was a need to increase food production by 50% by 2030 and double it by 2050. These figures are based on assumptions about population growth and patterns of consumption. It is important to bear in mind that they are projections rather than targets. They are a useful way of focusing attention on food production. However, they should also be used to draw attention to population growth, diet, and waste at all stage of the food chain, and the need for policy responses in these areas. (Paragraph 22)
2.More work is needed on future patterns of consumption. Doubling production by 2050 may focus the minds of policymakers, but, by itself, it is too broad a projection on which to base a response. We recommend that the Foresight Project on Global Food and Farming Futures, which is due to report in October 2010, provide a clear and accessible breakdown of this projection, encompassing where and at what rate the population increases are likely to take place, and how demand is likely to change. It should indicate the implications of these factors for world production of different food commodities. Defra should determine how it will monitor global food production and demand trends in order further to refine the projections in the future. (Paragraph 23)
3.Producing sufficient food is only part of the challenge the world faces, the implications of the way in which it is produced are equally important. The only acceptable form of food production is that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Applying this principle to food production requires a fundamental shift in thinking and an open-minded approach to embracing solutions from across the spectrum of production methods. (Paragraph 31)
The head-in-the-sand approach
4.It is clear that maximising food production does not depend on agriculture alone but also on infrastructure-transport systems, as well as food storage. (Paragraph 41)
5.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. (Paragraph 47)
The self-sufficient approach
6.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. (Paragraph 51)
7.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. (Paragraph 52)
Food colonialism or "land-grabbing"
8.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. (Paragraph 56)
The sustainable production approach
9.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. (Paragraph 59)
10.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. (Paragraph 60)
11.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. (Paragraph 61)
Meat and dairy production
12.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. (Paragraph 65)
13.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. (Paragraph 68)
The environmental impact of increased population
14.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. (Paragraph 70)
Local and home production
15.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. (Paragraph 74)
The role of Defra
16.Defra's approach to the security of food supplies must take place in the context of the European Union. However, we believe that there is still scope for Defra to develop its own food policy and that the clearer this policy and the stronger Defra's leadership, the more chance the UK has of shaping the direction of any emerging EU policy on this issue. (Paragraph 78)
17.It is beyond the scope of this inquiry to assess the impact of the new EU pesticides legislation on the security of food supplies. However, we note with concern that the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser does not believe that it is an evidence-based policy. Defra should press for the EU to agree that future changes of this nature must not be approved by the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament until a full evidence-based evaluation of the proposals has been undertaken. (Paragraph 79)
Defra's progress so far
18.The vision and strategy for food, for which Defra was assigned responsibility in the Cabinet Office's Food Matters report, must provide a long-term framework for the UK food and farming industries. It should commit the UK to increasing production of those commodities which are best suited to being produced here, provided that this can be done in a sustainable way. Defra must recognise that calling for more domestic food production is one thing, but it cannot order that this be done. It must, however, lay out clearly what role it has in helping the UK food and farming industries to achieve this objective. The vision and strategy cannot be expected to supply all the answers, but it must supply clear direction and indicate what further work is needed and the deadline for its completion. Cross-party consensus on the vision and strategy is essential. (Paragraph 85)
Assessing the risks
19.We welcome the fact that Defra is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the risks to the security of the UK's food supplies. This work should be used as the basis for monitoring and managing risks, and should be regularly updated. Together with the vision and strategy for food, it should inform food policy decisions across all departments. It should also be used as a basis for contingency planning. The European Commission should undertake its own assessment of the risks to the security of food supplies in the EU. (Paragraph 86)
The structure for delivering food policy
20.We believe that both the Food Strategy Task Force and the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Food could benefit from input from the food sector. They should set out how they intend to involve members of the sector in their deliberations. (Paragraph 89)
21. Defra should use its review of its relationships with the food sector to consider how it can encourage the wider food sector to interact with the Council of Food Policy Advisers. (Paragraph 92)
22.We extend a cautious welcome to the new groups working on food policy. The composition of the Food Strategy Task Force and the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Food means that they have the potential to improve co-ordination across Government. However, the Task Force and the Sub-Committee must be used as a way of facilitating action, rather than a substitute for it. To this end, as much information as possible about the groups' decisions and the work resulting from them should be published on the internet. The Government should make use of modern, IT-based solutions as a way of engaging with consumers and the food and farming industries. The Council of Food Policy Advisers is already setting a good example. The Task Force should aim to publish more information about its work and the Sub-Committee should consider whether it can disclose any, even very basic, information—if not about its work, then at least about any work set in train as a result of its deliberations. (Paragraph 93)
23.Defra's vision for the UK food and farming industries is still being formulated. We are encouraged by the signs that Defra has begun to recognise the importance of UK production, as well as trade, in securing food supplies. It is essential that it develops and articulates this vision. Clear leadership from Defra is crucial to the security of the UK's food supplies because it will encourage the food and farming industries, and consumers, to respond in a co-ordinated way to the challenges posed by a growing global population, climate change, and increasingly scarce resources. (Paragraph 94)
Targets for production
24.Targets are a crude and, in most cases, impractical way of increasing food production. We see no point in Defra adopting production targets for particular commodities. Instead, Defra should concentrate on helping to build capacity within the food and farming industries so that they are well placed to respond to market signals. However, if the global or national situation with regard to food were to worsen significantly, and the market did fail to deliver supplies of certain food stuffs, the possibility that the Government may need to consider production targets, and Government-held stocks of particular commodities, should not be ruled out altogether. (Paragraph 97)
The Common Agricultural Policy
25.We do not consider that the interests of food security would be served by a return to direct production subsides under the CAP, although, again, if the global situation with regard to food supplies were to worsen significantly, the possibility of some form of direct production subsidy should not be excluded altogether. The CAP is a way of rewarding farmers for the provision of environmental services. However, the focus of the post-2013 CAP should be on sustainable food production, rather than land management by itself. Europe has a responsibility to contribute to global food supplies and the EU must ensure that European countries are in a position to respond to increased demand. We are disappointed that the Lisbon Treaty did not address the out-of-date nature of European agricultural obligations and reflect the increasing importance of sustainability. The principles of the new CAP should be reflected in future amendments of EU treaties. (Paragraph 106)
Research and development
26.UK scientific research is crucial to the security of food supplies. Without adequately structured, funded and focused research, the challenge of producing more food and producing it sustainably will not be met. Concentrating on developing a strong research base in the UK could also have a beneficial impact on global food security. The Government should encourage UK research institutes and universities to build more links with research centres that are working on food and farming worldwide, particularly in developing countries. (Paragraph 112)
The research budget
27.More money needs to be spent on public-sector food and farming research in the UK. The long-term nature of returns from research means that this money needs to be committed without delay. We urge Defra, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, and the BBSRC to continue to make the case for increased investment in food and farming research, using new structures such as the Food Research Sub-Group to convey their arguments in a co-ordinated and coherent way. (Paragraph 118)
The focus of the research
28.The focus of public sector food and farming research should be on increasing production sustainably and on realising benefits to the consumer and to the environment across the whole of the food chain. Defra should develop a long-term strategic research agenda, overseen by its Chief Scientific Adviser, rather than allowing its research priorities to be determined wholly or largely by policy teams. Such an approach must reflect both the potential of UK agriculture, and the threats it faces from pests, diseases and climate change. (Paragraph 120)
29.It is not within the scope of this report to offer a detailed assessment of the role of GM technology in securing food supplies up to 2050 and beyond. However, we believe that the potential of GM technology in the context of sustainable food production should be explored further. Defra has a role to play not only in commissioning some of the research, but in gaining public trust through the provision of comprehensible information, based on evidence. It should make an effort to "negotiate a ceasefire" on the destruction of GM crop trials so that more facts can be established. (Paragraph 123)
Translational services and research
30.It is essential that, once research has been carried out, its benefits can be realised by people working in the food and farming sectors. The extent to which this was identified as a failing in the present system is a serious cause for concern. In conjunction with the BBSRC, Defra should set out what more it intends to do to address this failing. There is a case for the reinstatement of a public-sector provider of advice on best practice, similar to the old ADAS system, to co-ordinate and build on existing translational services. It should act as an agricultural equivalent of Business Link. (Paragraph 126)
31.We emphasise the urgency of addressing the potential gaps in food and farming skills. We are particularly concerned about the applied sciences. We believe that there is already sufficient evidence for Defra to reintroduce a studentship scheme based on the scheme formerly run by MAFF, with the aim of encouraging more young people to acquire the skills that will help the UK and the world to produce more food, more sustainably. We recommend that Defra reintroduce such a scheme. (Paragraph 130)
The food chain
32.Defra should set out how it plans to address the perceived weaknesses in its understanding of the food supply chain and what measures it intends to take to ensure that dialogue with the food industry leads to action. As a first step, it should arrange for more of its officials to undertake work placements in different sectors of the food and farming industries so that they can experience the problems, challenges and possibilities at first hand. (Paragraph 131)
33.Food must be affordable to the consumer, but its prices must also make it worthwhile to produce in the first place. An agricultural system must be profitable to be healthy. Defra should initiate work to establish whether the different agricultural sectors are currently sufficiently profitable to enable them to invest, and therefore improve productivity in the long term. (Paragraph 133)
34.Strong relationships in the food chain are an important element of securing food supplies over the long term. Defra should consider applying the principle of the Pig Meat Supply Chain Task Force to other sectors where necessary. (Paragraph 134)
35.Defra should monitor the supply chain infrastructure in the short-term to ensure that potentially damaging trends are identified and addressed before they affect the UK's abilities to secure its food supplies in the long term. (Paragraph 135)
36.We are broadly satisfied that Defra is beginning to move in the right direction. However, there is a great deal still to do. The scale and importance of the challenge is such that we recommend that Defra publish a supplement to its Departmental Annual Report, detailing what it is doing to ensure the long-term security of the UK's food supplies, both through trade and domestic production. (Paragraph 137)
37. Securing food supplies is a vast subject and there are many aspects that we have not been able to cover in this report. We regard this as the first in a series of food-related inquiries to be undertaken by this Committee. It is likely that our subsequent work will focus on some of the solutions to the challenges we have outlined. We would welcome feedback and suggestions for future work. We propose to hold a public discussion to enable people to respond to the report and to the Government's reply, and to shape the direction of future inquiries on this subject. (Paragraph 138)

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