submitted by The Royal
The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on 'Securing
food supplies up to 2050: the challenges for the
1. Food security is a complex issue that will require leadership from the Government and interdisciplinary working between farmers, scientists, engineers, policy-makers and consumers. An integrated and systematic policy approach is needed to address properly the interdependent issues affecting the food industry.
2. The Academy is not aware of a coherent cross-Government food strategy with clear and well publicised aims. Within Defra there needs to be better integration and communication.
3. The Government must encourage food production alongside consideration of environmental issues, and develop policies that reflect the dual aims of increasing food security and preserving the countryside.
4. Significant food wastage occurs in the
5. It is important for the
1. How robust
is the current
1.2 Strengths include:
· Mild climate with adequate rainfall and fertile soils.
· Large farms (compared to some EU countries); this is important for better land efficiency.
· The top
· Very robust quality assurance and control systems are in place and enforced.
1.3 Weaknesses include:
· Lack of legislative support over recent decades, with generally more emphasis on preserving the countryside than primary food production.
· Perceptions caused by periods of food surplus in
· Insufficient consideration of the energy and carbon costs involved in food production.
· Lack of effective applied research and knowledge transfer services to deliver research messages to farmers and feedback to researchers.
· Land scarcity; the land area available to farming in the
2. How well placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by 2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable?
a result of the weaknesses detailed in section 1 and other factors, the
2.2 By 2050, because of mounting concerns over energy sources and environmental impact, it will be necessary to have found a way to either reduce the amount of energy required for the Haber Bosch process (the energy intensive method by which nitrogen fertiliser is produced) or find an alternative process/source. Here the role of chemical engineers will be particularly important. Maintaining soil quality is vital for sustainable food production, hence the importance of the nitrogen fertilisers. Using existing technology, biowaste and compost could also be modified and applied to fields to maintain soil fertility.
2.3 New technologies should be fully exploited where appropriate to increase production sustainably. Nitrogen and water use efficiency could be improved using plant and animal genetics research to develop crops and agrochemical equipment, and employing precision farming methods to reduce wastage during application.
order to sustain a robust glasshouse industry renewable energy sources or more
efficient processes will be required. The
3. In particular, what are the challenges the
3.1 Water availability:
· Irrigated agriculture accounts for 1% of
· There needs to be significant investment in water storage to allow for more efficient irrigation and water distribution on a national scale. The number of on-farm storage reservoirs could be increased and precision farming methods could be used to apply water more effectively.
· The water drainage infrastructure has been poorly maintained since Government subsidies were removed in the 1980s; this will become increasingly problematic as the delayed effects start to show. The drainage infrastructure must be reinvigorated and properly maintained. Studies have shown that strong relationships exist between drainage and yield. For example, in 2007, Birds Eye lost 40% of its pea crop due to heavy rainfall and poor drainage.
3.2 The science base:
· The incorporation of the Agricultural and Food Research Council into the
Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council in 1994 has resulted in a
loss of focus on food research in the
3.3 The provision of training:
· Training facilities are not attractive and the food industry has a reputation of poor rewards for long hours.
3.4 Trade barriers:
· The dominance of the "Big 4" supermarkets imposes distortions in the market place and reduces competitiveness through effects on various parts of the supply chain.
· EU quotas and tariffs limiting the production of foods in the
4. What trends are likely to emerge on the
demand side of the food system in the
4.1 It is likely that there will be a continued decrease of home-cooking caused by changes in lifestyle. This will increase the demand for packaged and processed foods.
in technology (e.g. machinery, genetics, chemicals) will continue to become
available. However their acceptability to consumers, and therefore their
adoption, will be questionable. In the case of genetic modification there is
still a lack of consumer acceptance in the
to superficial quality standards particularly for fruit and vegetables, there
is significant food wastage in the
4.4 Dietary preferences for meat protein increase pressure on farming as vastly more land, water and feedstock is required to produce meat than plant-based foods. The global demand for cheaply priced meat is increasing.
is likely that there will be an increase in the trend for local production.
Much more use could be made of local food networks. However the importance of
convenience to the consumer means supermarket chains are likely to remain
dominant. For local food networks to be viable across the
5. What role
should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the
5.1 The Government must encourage food production alongside consideration of environmental issues and develop policies that reflect the dual aims of increasing food security and preserving the countryside. Past schemes such as set-aside land initiatives have disincentivised the farming community from increasing production.
decline of agricultural research centres in the
5.3 Food security is a complex issue that will require leadership from the Government and interdisciplinary working between farmers, scientists, engineers, policy-makers and consumers. An integrated and systematic policy approach is needed to address properly the interdependent issues affecting the food industry.
can help increase food production and has historically resulted in many
agricultural revolutions. In the
6. How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the regulatory framework for the food supply chain? Is there a coherent cross-Government food strategy?
6.1 The Academy is not aware of a coherent cross-Government food strategy with clear and well publicised aims. Within Defra there could be better integration and communication.
criteria should Defra use to monitor how well the
should be possible for Defra to monitor the