Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SFS 57)
1. Following the invitation of 11 December 2008 from the House of Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to submit written evidence for its inquiry entitled Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges for the UK, this memorandum focuses on the steps Defra is taking to ensure we remain food secure in the UK now and in the future, and in light of the challenge to feed the globe's rapidly growing population sustainably.
2. Defra's response to the Committee's terms of reference attempts to provide an overview of the department's, and Government's work to ensure a sustainable and secure food supply.
3. The Government's definition of UK food security is: for people to have access at all times to sufficient, safe, sustainable and nutritious food, at affordable prices, so as to help ensure an active and healthy life. Our work on food security is built on analysis carried out over some years, most recently in Defra's analytical study Food Security and the UK (December 2006), and followed by our discussion paper Ensuring the UK's Food Security in a Changing World, issued last July.
4. The Cabinet Office/Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report Food Matters set out four strategic policy objectives, which the Government has endorsed. Our approach to food policy is to join up the health, social, environmental and economic aspects. This will be driven forward by a new Cabinet sub-committee and co-ordinated by a Food Strategy Task Force. It will include work that Defra, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency, and a number of other departments are taking forward in partnership. Defra's new co-ordinating role on food policy means working with other departments on wider issues than before such as the social impacts of food policy. The newly created Council of Food Policy Advisers will assist with this.
How robust is the current
5. The UK food system is a significant part of the UK economy. Consumer expenditure on food totalled £172bn in 2007 - split between expenditure on catering services (£82bn) and food and drink for the home (£90bn). The UK exported £11.4bn worth of food and drink, the majority of which was highly processed (58% highly processed; 35% lightly processed; 7% unprocessed). The agri-food sector as a whole contributed £79.4bn (8.6%) to national market sector GVA in 2006, and employed 3.2 million people. In 2007 the UK imported £26.6bn worth of food and drink imports, of which £5.4bn consisted of unprocessed agricultural products.
6. The diversity of the supply of our food products in the UK, including domestically, helps to spread risks from potential disruptions such as terrorism or floods. It also enables us to choose from a rich selection of nutritious foods. In 2006, 26 countries, including the UK, accounted for 90% of our food supply, up from 22 countries in 1996. Currently, 34 countries supply the UK with at least 0.5% of our food imports, with no single country accounting for more than 13% (Netherlands having this share), and the vast majority of our food (69% in value) coming from our stable trading partners in the European Union.
7. The food sector has demonstrated its ability and flexibility in dealing effectively with emergencies, for example, the flooding in Gloucester and the southwest in 2007. During the floods the supermarkets remained open and able to provide food to the affected populations and, with the dairy and alcoholic drinks industry, supported the provision and distribution of water.
Strengths and weaknesses
8. UK farming continues to show its strength and
resilience in the face of challenges. The biggest wheat harvest in
9. The effects on health of what we eat in the
10. As well as its dependency on energy, oil and water, our food system also depends on telecommunications and transport. Reliability and diversity of supply in these areas remains essential.
11. Our food system benefits from the number and
diversity of its supply chains, manufacturing and retailers, and the variety of
foods that can be used and substituted. By
any objective measure and despite recent price increases, the
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?
12. As last July's Defra discussion paper on food
security made clear,
13. Domestically, the Government wants to see
15. Jane Kennedy, Minister for Farming and the Environment, is co-sponsoring (with Mike Foster at DfID) Professor John Beddington's Foresight study on the future of food and farming. The Chief Scientist's study will examine the global food system, and its implications for developments both here and abroad, asking how we can meet the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050.
In particular, what are the challenges
16. In some parts of the
17. Precautionary measures aiming to address soil degradation are already in place under CAP cross-compliance and agri-environment measures. The Government plans to improve soil monitoring to ensure it has a good understanding of trends and risks. CAP cross-compliance and agri-environment measures are also being kept under review.
18. There is a danger that the impacts of climate change may add to rates of erosion, increase the amount of waterlogged soil, and increase levels of compacted soils. In addition, temperature rises, and changes in rainfall patterns are likely to affect soil moisture levels which will affect productivity and require increased irrigation. There will also be risks of salinisation from irrigation. Soils act as important carbon stores and research has been commissioned to understand the likely impacts of climate change on key soil threats, and the actions that will be needed once these likely impacts are understood.
19. Abstracting water unsustainably can have serious environmental impacts, negatively affecting habitats and biodiversity and any flood protection they provide. It can also have a negative effect on water quality, reducing the ability of rivers to dilute pollutants.
20. By importing food and other products, the
The marine environment
21. Defra published Fisheries 2007, its long-term
vision for sustainable fisheries in October of that year to guide future
fisheries policy. Focussed on activities
22. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) provides the
policy framework governing the exploitation of marine fish resources in EU
waters. In its negotiations on fishing
opportunities in EU and other international waters, the
23. Sustainable fisheries must also be a global priority. Fish make up half the dietary protein for 400 million people in the world's poorest countries, and a fifth of protein nutrition in developing countries as a whole. Additionally, fish exports from developing countries are a significant element of national income.
24. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU)
fishing remains a major threat not just to the world's fish stocks, but to its
marine biodiversity, and the livelihoods and security of coastal
communities. This problem is
particularly critical for developing countries, now that many western fisheries
are already heavily fished and well controlled.
The science base
25. Support to encourage thriving and sustainable
farming and food industries in the
26. Defra provides £68M a year in research funding
for farming and food including £39M on animal health and welfare. The BBSRC invests £185M a year, the
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board £20M, and industry and NGO
contributions to LINK research are about £6M. Defra has also announced a new
national research centre for food and the environment which will strengthen
Defra's research capability. The Food
and Environment Research Agency will bring together a wide-range of expertise. It will strengthen our work in plant and crop
protection and in environmental risk assessment, help us respond to crises
speedily, and assist in cutting delays for businesses trading in the
27. We have some concerns that expertise in agricultural sciences, and in specific technical areas (for example, soil science, weed science, "whole organism" biology, agricultural engineering), are not being replaced; universities are no longer teaching relevant courses, and long-term career prospects are limited. Additionally, future requirements are likely to be for interdisciplinary, socio-economic science, modelling and systems-based approaches alongside these more traditional disciplines. An example might be integrating expertise in effects of climate change and other pressures on farming systems with socio-economics, to feed into overall policy development.
The provision of training
28. As well as good farming skills, farmers need business and environmental skills in order to succeed. The Government is working with the industry to help it meet its challenges and ensure the right skills are developed.
29. Defra is supporting Fresh Start, an industry-led initiative which provides training and mentoring for new or recent recruits to the industry, and also a matchmaking service identifying potential opportunities for participants.
30. In addition, the Agri-skills Forum has been
formed to help establish a Skills Agenda, owned by the industry, to re-skill
and raise professional standards. A
skills group has been established, consisting of Lantra, the National Farmers'
31. As July's Defra discussion paper on food
security made clear, we believe that the global marketplace for food needs to
be freed from the distorting effects that subsidies and import tariffs have on
producers worldwide. The World Bank has
shown that greater liberalisation of trade would result in increased farm
output in most of the world, including 5-6% a year in
The way in which land is farmed and managed
33. Farmers have an important role not only in food
production but as custodians and guardians of the countryside and the
34. Since the CAP reform of 2003, farmers are required to comply with a set of Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and keep their land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) in order to qualify for the full single payment and other direct payments. The SMRs relate to the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare. The standards of GAEC relate to the issues of soil erosion, soil organic matter, soil structure and ensuring a minimum level of maintenance, and avoiding the deterioration of habitats. Maintaining the quality of the soil means that the soil will continue to sustain production.
35. Farmers can also voluntarily
opt to join Environmental Stewardship (ES) schemes. ES provides
funding to farmers and land managers in
36. Climate change is having an increasing impact on farming and land management, but options exist for farmers to help them cope with, and take advantage of, the changes. However, more work remains to be done to meet these challenges. Farmers and land managers need to be aware of and manage risks climate change presents to their businesses. Farmers have a responsibility to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by, for example, providing animals with diets that specifically match their nutritional requirements, and by being as energy efficient as possible. There is a need for further research and policy analysis, and Defra is undertaking a specific programme of research on agriculture and climate change (around £5m in 2007/8), comprising projects in the following areas: measuring emissions from agriculture; mitigating agricultural nitrous oxide and methane emissions; climate change impacts and adaptation; energy in agriculture and food; bio-energy; and renewable materials.
37. Globally, the
What trends are likely to emerge on the
demand side of the food system in the
38. Evidence even up to last year indicated that
· A continuation in the downward trend of purchases of less healthy foods; purchases of whole milk, white bread, some meat products and soft drinks have dropped.
· Average energy intake per person has dropped, along with intake of saturated fatty acids, sodium, and a big drop in the intake of added sugars (i.e., sugars not found naturally in, for example, fruit).
· Fruit and vegetable purchases are rising slowly.
39. A report from market analyst Mintel in September 2008 suggests that locally sourced food is among the most buoyant food categories in terms of growth, following a steady upward trajectory from 2003 to 2008. In October Mintel said that manufacturers offering quality premium goods are likely to be resilient in any market turbulence. The success of direct selling by farmers, suggests that the interest in local food networks will continue and grow for the foreseeable future.
40. We also expect to see the following consumer trends emerge in 2009:
· Less food waste
through greater awareness of the amount of food we waste in the
· A move away from premium to standard and basic supermarket product lines.
· More flexibility and willingness to compare products, brands and retailers on price - there is evidence this is already happening with the rise in purchases of own-brand products.
· A preference when dining out for consumers to choose less expensive places.
What role should Defra play both in
ensuring that the strengths of the
41. Defra is focused on working with the sector to achieve a sustainable, secure and healthy food supply, and a thriving food and farming sector. The Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS), published in 2006, highlighted the way in which Government and the food industry must work together to improve sustainability. Building on earlier industry input, the Food and Drink Federation launched its successful and ongoing Five-Fold Environmental Ambition in October 2007 with commitments on CO2, waste, water, and transport. Defra has also established a Food Industry Better Regulation group - a forum for discussing regulatory issues affecting the food and drink supply chain.
42. Defra's role in an emergency, having collected and disseminated information, is to enable Ministers to take policy decisions to support industry's response; to relax drivers' hours, for example. In the case of a very severe emergency, the Secretary of State could use Section 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act to direct the actions of the food industry as required.
43. The Government also works with industry and the public sector to promote business continuity planning so as to improve resilience. Defra leads the relationship with the food sector, although the Food Standards Agency leads on food safety. Defra has set up and chairs the Food Chain Emergency Liaison Group, a forum at which other Government departments, industry, and the relevant trade associations can share information and jointly consider developing policy.
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?
44. The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report, Food Matters, published in July 2008, signalled a fresh approach to food policy across Government. The report highlighted the need to join up food policy to address the health, environmental and economic challenges in the food system in an integrated way. It set out four strategic policy objectives:
§ Fair prices, choice, access to food and food security through open and competitive markets;
§ Continuous improvement in the safety of food;
§ The changes needed to deliver a further transition to healthier diets; and
§ A more environmentally sustainable food chain.
45. Along with specific policy recommendations, the report also established a Food Strategy Task Force, to bring together departments with a stake in food policy, in order to better coordinate work on food across Government. Subsequently, the Machinery of Government changes on 3 October 2008 gave Defra an enhanced role on food. Now, with the lead for co-ordinating efforts on food across Government, Defra is working with other Departments on wider issues, such as the social impact of food policy. This is in addition to its lead responsibilities on farming, the food industry and their environmental impacts. To support this new role, a new Ministerial Sub-committee has been established (Domestic Affairs - Food), and the Food Strategy Task Force (which was already in place) convenes senior officials from the relevant departments to support the Sub-Committee.
46. Defra has already forged good working relationships with departments and others in taking forward its work on food:
§ With the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health in delivering actions set out in the PMSU Food Matters report and in joining up the health and environmental impacts of food;
§ With DfID on food security, sustainable agriculture, and environmental sustainability. Defra is a delivery partner for the DfID-led PSA 29 Reduce poverty in poorer countries through quicker progress towards the Millennium Development Goals;
§ With BERR and the OFT on competition issues;
§ With the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat, the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure and a range of Government departments (in particular the FSA, BERR (now DECC), Transport and Health) on resilience;
§ With Foresight on its Global Food and Farming Futures project;
§ With DECC on climate change deliverables;
§ With international partners on CFA and GPAFS, through multilateral and bilateral commitments such as those developed with China and India through the sustainable development dialogues (SDDs) which involve sharing expertise, skills and knowledge with the places that need it most; and
§ With our European partners including FAO on the range of issues affecting food and agriculture.
What criteria should Defra use to
monitor how well the
47. As Food
Matters said last July, the 'UK makes a small but meaningful contribution
to overall global food supply...but the UK seems likely to have a greater
impact via its influence on international policy, diplomatic initiatives,
development programmes and research efforts'. The Government believes we should
48. Defra is working increasingly closely with DfID
on global food security. One measure of
49. Professor Beddington's Foresight study referred to above, and co-sponsored by Defra and DfID Ministers, also aims to produce practical, action-oriented recommendations to achieve just this objective.
 Food Security and the
 These are: fair prices, choice, access to food and food security through open and competitive markets; continuous improvement in the safety of food; the changes needed to deliver a further transition to healthier diets; and, a more environmentally sustainable food chain.
 The five main elements are global availability and resource
 Full details in Chapter 2 of Food: an analysis of the issues, Cabinet Office, January 2007, revision D, August 2008.
 Defra/ONS (December 2008) Family Food: A report on the 2007 Expenditure and Food Survey
 Including offal, bacon, ham, chicken, turkey, canned meat, pies, burgers, and sausages.