Memorandum submitted by Unilever (SFS 58)

 

Introduction

 

1. In December 2008 Unilever was contacted to provide written and oral evidence to the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on 'Securing Food Supplies up to 2050: The Challenges for the UK'.

 

2. We are pleased to provide evidence to the Select Committee and present our views on a number of questions which have been raised. Our main focus is on the question of how well placed the UK is to make the most of its opportunities to respond to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 (and doubling it by 2050) while ensuring that such production is 'sustainable'.

 

3. It should be noted that Unilever has also provided input to the written submission made by the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF). We therefore limit our responses to a number of key questions in addition to the evidence provided by FDF.

 

How to use the UK potential to increase production in a sustainable way?

 

4. In 2006 the UK imports of food and drink products amounted to 25 billion with exports of some 10.5 billion. The difference between imports and exports has doubled between 1995 and 2005. Depending on the definition used the UK now imports between 40% and 50% of its food supply. The UK is therefore increasingly dependent on food imports.

 

5. For the period 2010-2030 it is expected that the UK population (now 60 million) will increase with another 10 million people. For the same period we may expect certain changes in the diets and additional demand of healthy foods.

 

6. We believe that the development at global level and in the UK would merit a strong focus on the potential to increase domestic production in a sustainable way. This may require action at the level of individual sectors (including fruit and vegetables).

 

7. The issue of food security has received a substantial amount of political attention recently. This, together with an active participation of key stakeholders, could result in the necessary improvements in future food production capacity. This could answer the question whether it will be possible to increase food/feed production by 50% in the UK in a sustainable way and whether the UK would be in a position to contribute in a proportional way to the additional global food production.

 

 

 

8. In this context it can be argued that Europe and the UK will not be constrained dramatically by climate change compared to Africa. Agricultural production, however, will have to meet sustainability requirements including water and energy use, climate change emission objectives while respecting biodiversity and eco-systems. You can find the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture programme via the link: (http://www.unilever.com/Images/es_Growing_for_the_Future_3rd_Ed_tcm181-27805.pdf).

9. The possibilities for production and yield increases will have to be assessed on a crop-by-crop basis. As Unilever we are interested in a number of crops including oilseed rape for food production and fruit and vegetables. We would like to see a specific emphasis on the quality of the production. This should take into account the future demand for healthy foods.

 

10. Targeted investments in infrastructure, research and innovation would facilitate the expansion of agricultural production and productivity improvement. This should include water management, transport infrastructure as well as food storage.

 

Food Security versus Energy Security?

 

11. Unilever remains concerned that certain national policy measures to promote the use of biofuels are distorting commodity markets and increase pressure on the available food supply. In our view we need to develop alternative sources for renewable energy for electricity and transport fuels in the UK and the EU which do not compete with the required food supply.

 

How to manage the transition process in the UK?

 

12. We expect the UK Government to facilitate investments in agricultural production with the objective to increase yields and production for food in the period 2010-2030. The use of EU funds and national supplements could be organised in a way to obtain a successful transition. The criteria need to include the respective sustainability criteria with a specific focus on production/yield increase.

 

13. Concerning the science-base and the provision of training, it would be adequate to review the role of public and private organisations in this area. We believe that public-private partnerships could be an effective way forward to stimulate increased production of specific crops in specific regions. A specific focus on added value produce could serve the future demand as well as the revenues for primary producers.

 

14. A specific area of attention would be risk management. Investments to mitigate the risks associated with agricultural production will strengthen the financial capacity to invest in agricultural production. Insurance against droughts and floods as well as monetary and commodity market instruments all play a role in this context.

 

15. Considering the age profile of the agricultural labour force in the UK (average age: 58 with 30% over 65 and only 3% under 35), it is recommended to reassess the consequences of this for the future of agricultural production. Measures applied elsewhere in the EU could be considered in order to improve the training, recruitment and retention of talent in the UK.

 

How to engage with European and international bodies on food policy?

 

16. In recent years the UK Government played an important role in putting food security on the international agenda. Further activities in the UN including FAO would merit from active UK involvement. Within the EU we will be engaged in a policy debate about the Common Agricultural Policy post 2013. A well functioning internal market and the elimination of trade barriers with third countries would allow for an efficient trade regime which reduces costs in the different supply chains.

 

17. In developing countries we need more partnerships to reduce inefficiencies in the supply chain between the farm and the plate. The question of supporting innovation will raise the issue of biotechnology in order to produce more drought and resistant crops and increase productivity.

 

18. At the same time we need to examine and develop recommendations to engage smallholder farmers to increase agricultural productivity as well as poverty alleviation. Smallholder farms have an important role to play in meeting domestic food security objectives in developing and emerging economies. Access to credits and access to inputs and consumer markets are critical issues in this context.

 

 

January 2009