2 The UK food system
5. In 2010 Defra produced a UK Food
Security Assessment which analysed the risks and challenges to
UK food supplies and placed UK food security in a global context.
The Assessment focused on the themes of food availability, access,
affordability, safety and resilience. It concluded that the UK
currently enjoys a high degree of food security, based on a strong
UK food production base, access to EU markets and an open, rule-based
international trading system.
The Assessment was reviewed by the current Government in 2012
and found to be still relevant.
6. The Food Security Assessment fed
into the creation of the Government's food strategy to 2030.
Its objectives were to ensure that:
· consumers could make informed
choices about the food that they eat;
· there was a strong domestic
agricultural and food sector with EU and global trade links; and,
· food would be produced in
an environmentally sustainable manner.
The present Government has similar objectives,
including increasing food exports, removing barriers to competitiveness,
pressing for reform of market-distorting EU trade and agricultural
policies, and reducing food waste while providing "strategic
support to ensure the long term resilience of the sector."
WHAT IS FOOD SECURITY AND WHO IS
7. Food security has been defined by
the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as:
when all people, at all times, have
physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious
food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active
and healthy life.
This implicitly includes future generations,
and requires food production methods, in the UK and elsewhere,
to be sustainable. Germains
Seed Technology commented that "food security is a global
challenge which affects all areas of agriculture and rural development."
The NFU wrote, "we have a moral obligation to do what we
can both domestically and through our influence on other countries
to help address the critical long term food security issue, as
well as the more pressing issue of hunger in some parts of the
8. Responsibility within Government
for key elements of policy that make up the multiple dimensions
of our food security are distributed across a number of Whitehall
Departments. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is responsible
for international trade negotiations, and the Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills (BIS) through UK Trade and Investment, for
assisting businesses (including those in the agri-food sector)
in developing export trade. BIS also has responsibility for ensuring
we have a research capacity and capability to cope with future
challenges. The Department for International Development (DFID)
is mandated to ensure UK food, trade, aid, and development policies
help developing countries to increase their food security.
9. Nevertheless Defra also has a role
to play in helping to ensure our farmers are as efficient as possible,
promoting the use of new technologies in conjunction with BIS
through the Agri-Tech Strategy.
Furthermore, both Defra and the Department of Energy and Climate
Change (DECC) have responsibilities regarding reducing greenhouse
gas emissions (GHG) from agriculture, and in bio-renewable energies.
The question of cross-departmental policy coherence and actions
as they relate to the policy and strategies for UK food security
is therefore relevant.
10. We were re-assured to hear that
cross-departmental communication regarding specific policy areas
does take place.
However, it is not entirely clear to us which department has the
primary responsibility for leading on UK food security and its
delivery, nor what priority these issues are given in other departmental
strategies, and therefore how this may affect their specific contributions
in relation to resourcing and delivery of the Government's food
security strategy. The Food and Drink Federation pointed to the
Environmental Audit Committee report of 2012 which concluded that
the Government did not have a strategy which unified policy areas
which impact on production, supply and demand which could drive
the whole system towards greater sustainability.
11. In order to clarify the resourcing,
commitment and prioritisation of food security across government
we request that the Government set out the financial contributions
and support of each department to the goals and delivery of the
Government's food security strategy. The Government should identify
Defra as the lead Department for food security and appoint a Food
Security Coordinator within it to ensure policy coherence across
What we produce and what we consume
12. Professor Benton commented:
Food security is not only about
what we produce; it is about the resilience of the food we bring
in, not just chocolate, cocoa and soya but all the other things
that we bring in. It is also about buying sufficient food, not
overbuying food and throwing it away, and buying sufficient food
for a healthy diet and not overeating food and wasting it in that
way. There are many ways in which we can increase our ability
to cope with problems of production, and they are not all about
growing more in the UK.
13. The UK Food Security Assessment
noted that our food security depended on being able to source
food from a variety of countries and that this diversity of supply
enhanced security by spreading risks, widening options and keeping
14. In January 2014 the Secretary of
State, Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, told the Oxford Farming Conference
that he wanted British consumers to purchase more seasonal British
produce. He said:
By buying seasonal fruit and veg
we can improve the nation's health, help the environment and boost
the economy. [
]As British farmers and food producers you
know that we grow some of the best food in the world here - so
why is 24% of the food eaten in the UK imported when it could
be produced here? [
]We have a top-class fruit and veg sector
which produces everything from green beans to strawberries, yet
we imported £8bn of fruit and veg in 2012.
This figure of 24% is based on the ratio
of indigenous-type food produced to indigenous-type food supplied
into the market, and thus a measure of the amount of food available
for consumption which could be produced here. Paragraph 14, The
"self sufficiency ratio" or "food production to
supply ratio" for indigenous foods has declined from a peak
of almost 87% in the early 1990s to 77% in 2012.
Graph 1: Self sufficiency levels
since 1994 for indigenous foods
Source This chart has been created using
data provided by DEFRA at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/overseas-trade
15. We note the low levels of self-sufficiency
in the UK fresh fruit and vegetables sectors, at 12% and 58% respectively.
While most of these imports, by volume, occur in the out-of-season
months of November to June, as the graph below illustrates, import
levels of apples, potatoes, peppers, onions and tomatoes remain
still relatively high at the height of UK seasonal production.
It is likely that the majority of these imports come from other
EU Member State which experience similar seasons to the UK.
Graph 2: Imports of fresh fruit and
vegetables: monthly averages by tonne, January 2009 to October
Source HM Revenue and Customs, trade
info, UK export and import data
Even if productive capacity in the UK
were to be at its maximum level, it is unlikely that the UK would
be fully self-sufficient in indigenous food. This would also be
a risky strategy. As the CLA commented:
If the UK refocused solely on domestic
production and ignored external trade, there could be an unforeseen
catastrophic event, such as a major crop failure or disease epidemic
in livestock, which would leave the UK needing to rapidly source
food from global markets. Diversity of supply is the key to resilience.
16. Professor Benton told us that the
UK needed more diversity in what it currently producedmainly
cereals and livestockin case of market failure.
He discussed Thanet Earth, a large greenhouse complex in
Kent, which now produced about one third of UK cucumbers and tomatoes,
as an example.
17. The Government suggested that there
may be sectors where the UK could increase the production-to-supply
ratio through greater competitiveness. It is also looking at areas
where there may be obstacles which prevent UK producers from fully
exploiting their comparative advantage, as well as barriers to
UK food and drink exports in foreign markets.
The Government is also trying to find new markets for UK food
exports in those parts of the world where demand for food is increasing.
The Minister told us:
We have been particularly successful
at opening markets in China to British pork, and we have opened
markets in Russia to British lamb, for instance. A key element
of the TTIP negotiations at the momentthe Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnershipthat the EU is leading
is to ensure that we can open the US market to European beef.
There are lots of opportunities for us in export.
18. Food security is not simply about
becoming more self-sufficient in food production. A diversity
of supply is an important safeguard against diseases, severe weather
or other domestic supply disruptions. There are opportunities
to extend the seasonal production of non-tree crop fresh fruits
and vegetable products. We would like to see a more coordinated
and positive approach by retailers, the Agricultural and Horticultural
Development Board and local and central Government to examine
ways to encourage greater domestic production in these sectors.
19. We should also export, where
possible, those products which are surplus to demand in the UK
and can be produced competitively for export, as this will help
boost our production. We are pleased that the Government is seeking
to do this. The Government must redouble its efforts to negotiate
the export of products such as pigmeat and cheese to China and
demonstrate reciprocity in trade.
20. It is right that the Government
keeps track of levels of self-sufficiency in indigenous productswhich
will vary from time to time. While the UK may be food secure at
present, it would be unwise to allow a situation to arise in which
we were almost entirely dependent on food imports given future
challenges to food production arising from climate change and
changing global demands.
The EU context
21. The EU provides the framework for
our trade, including in food and agricultural products. The bulk
of our food imports apart from tropical and sub-tropical fruit
and vegetables, out-of-season temperate fruit and vegetables,
and products such as soya and rice, come from other EU member
states. It would
be impossible to consider UK food security without reference to
the EU context.
22. In addition the CAP is the framework
under which UK farming takes place, providing payments to farmers
and setting standards for environmental, food safety, phytosanitary
regulation and animal welfare. We reported last year on the Implementation
of the CAP in England 2014-20.
23. Within the Commission, different
Directorates General (DGs) are responsible for different aspects
of food security. As in the UK, no single EU body has the whole
food security remit. Moreover, each Member States has its own
approach to food security. This makes the process of policy coherence
and unity of objectives difficult to achieve at the EU level and
this is evident in many of the debates around the CAP.
24. Professor Crute told us the UK was
at the forefront in the EU in thinking about food security.
Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), told us that
there was a need for a cross-EU approach to food security.
The BRC said the EU was:
better placed to consider the structural
issues of food security as it has competence for trade agreements,
the CAP and legislation on bio-technology. However, we feel more
co-ordination is needed to bring these policy areas together in
a coherent fashion to address food security.
THE CAP AND FOOD SECURITY
25. The Government believes that the
CAP, combined with EU trade policy, "has a negative impact
on global food security".
It says that direct payments through the CAP provide a cushion
to farmers which dilutes the effects of changes in the market
prices of their products and inputs and encourages inefficient
farmers to remain in the sector. Price support and other market
interventions also keep prices higher than they would otherwise
be and high agricultural tariffs keep potentially more efficient
producers in other parts of the world out of the EU market.
Professor Crute agreed with this saying:
The CAP is a little bit behind the
curve in terms of the importance of looking at the efficiency
of agricultural production systems. It essentially still rewards,
for all intents and purposes, inefficient farming. It is more
of a social policy, in some senses, than an agricultural policy.
26. Peter Kendall from the NFU said
he could not agree with this analysis:
The challenge for saying that our
payments keep inefficient farmers in production is quite emotive.
The reason I say that is because if it is devil take the hindmost,
and let people go out of business because they are not cutting-the-mustard:
that is a pretty tough message. It is tough because their competitors
get that support. If we say that we are going to let the market
forces operate, it is fair to say that we would reduce those support
payments to farmers evenly across Europe.
27. Agricultural support continues to
be a subject of major contention. The CAP was designed as a measure
to help ensure food security, to sustain the rural economy and
ensure that farming remained a viable economic activity. The conditions
which originally gave rise to the CAP have changed and the EU
is in a good position in relation to food security now. However,
the CAP is no longer just about the amount of food produced, but
increasingly about the way we produce it. The new CAP also allows
Member States a great deal of flexibility in its implementation
which can be used to assist UK food security objectives.
28. The CAP has changed significantly
over the years, and now has many more objectives including environmental
protection and conservation. Nevertheless, its original objective
of helping to ensure EU consumers have access to stable food supplies
at reasonable prices remains important particularly in the context
of projected increased global demand for food and potential supply
disruptions. The farming sector also provides public goods which,
by their very nature, have no market value. Some remuneration
through direct payments is warranted, as such provision may entail
specific costs in order to meet environmental or strategic objectives
29. The UK Government must ensure
a joined-up approach to food security within the EU across different
policy areas, and particularly in relation to the CAP, to ensure
policy coherence. The Government should set out how it will use
the flexibility provided by the new CAP agreement to help meet
the objective of food security.
The global context
30. After the global food crisis in
2008, the Government commissioned a report on the future of food
and farming which was published in 2011. The Future of Food
and Farming, often referred to as the Foresight Report, is
widely accepted as one of most significant and wide-ranging reports
on food security in recent years.
31. The Foresight Report argued that:
The global food system will experience
an unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years.
On the demand side, global population size will increase from
nearly seven billion today to eight billion by 2030, and probably
to over nine billion by 2050; many people are likely to be wealthier,
creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring
additional resources to produce. On the production side, competition
for land, water and energy will intensify, while the effects of
climate change will become increasingly apparent. The need to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate
will become imperative. Over this period globalisation will continue,
exposing the food system to novel economic and political pressures.
32. One of the main challenges posed
by the Foresight Report was how to feed a growing global population
with limited or finite resources in the context of unpredictable
climate change impacts. Professor Tim Benton, from the University
of Leeds, told us:
If you look ahead towards the middle
of the century, although it is quite difficult to effectively
produce a weather forecast that is accurate enough to understand
what production is going to be like, under some scenarios of change,
where the variability may increase detrimentally, it might be
difficult even to produce the same number of calories as we do
at the moment, yet alone the projected increase in demand of 100%.
If there is enough food, broadly speaking, for 7 billion to 9
billion, and we have 9 billion or 10 billion, and the richest
people want to eat twice the global share, what will end up happening?
Wars are likely to happen, for access to land and water, and food
prices are going to detrimentally affect a whole range of different
things, so together they are quite painful challenges.
Professor Ian Crute, from the Agriculture
and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), agreed that the challenge
of feeding an increasing global population, with a rising middle
class, was significant. Professor Sir John Beddington, the lead
author on the Foresight Report and previously the Government's
Chief Scientific Adviser, added that even if the fertility rate
in developing countries slowed down with increasing prosperity
as was expected, the impact of this on the demand for food would
not be felt for some time.
One example of our dependence on global markets is in relation
to the demand for protein and the price of animal feed.
|The demand for protein and the price of animal feed
Increased incomes in emerging economies have led in those countries to an increased demand for protein (meat and dairy in particular). Most of the livestock feed relies on soybean as an ingredient, much of which is imported, increasingly from South America. Professor Benton told us:
You can certainly see, with respect to China, the dietary transition has been huge over the last 25 years or so, and the amount of meat and dairy that is being consumed has gone up about fivefold per capita. The end result of that is they are importing, for example, huge amounts of soy from South America. We also rely on soy, primarily for putting in processed foodsabout 70% of foods in the supermarket have soy inand for most livestock food.
As a result there is risk to the UK that the cost of producing animal protein in the UK, especially pigmeat and poultrymeat, which are fed on soy products, will substantially increase. Furthermore the dominance of Brazil both in global soybean tradeaccounting for over 37% of world soybean exports in 2012/13and also as a supplier of soybeans to the UK88% of UK soybean imports came from Brazil in 2012underlines the strategic risk to the UK.
Professor Benton suggested we need a "Plan B" for future protein because if China, decided that it needed more food, prices for products dependent on soybeans would increase. Professor Beddington agreed:
I do not think we are going to be in a situation of protein starvation; it is just a price mechanism that will harvest it, and we are a wealthy country compared with other parts of the world. We will not be in a situation where we will not be able to buy in the protein. The issue is round the margin. It is whether, in fact, pig production or chicken production is going to be profitable in the UK if you are importing grains or soya to feed at what is a very high price. 
33. We asked the Government what account
it had taken of the possibility that we may be unable to rely
on sourcing animal feed from South America in future, and the
implications of this for the price of animal-based protein in
the UK. The Minister for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment,
George Eustice MP, acknowledged that since animal feed is a globally
traded commodity, prices do go up and down. He reiterated the
Government's support for open markets and free trade, but said
more could be done to produce animal feed here, for example by
growing more leguminous crops for animal feed, and by sourcing
more animal feed locally as was being trialled in the pig sector.
He said new cropping rules under the Common Agricultural Policy
(CAP) might also encourage diversification into using legumes
as break-crops. He
also told us that the Government had put £18 million into
research through the Technology Strategy Board to work out how
the industry could reduce reliance on protein sourced overseas.
34. In contrast, environmental organisations
such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth argue that
the solution to this problem is for us, in the developed world,
to eat less meat. The Soil Association told us that "we could
feed roughly three billion people more on the planet if feed that
goes to animalsand which is capable of humans eating it,
like grains and proteinwent to humans."
They also commented on the large amount of meat which is wasted.
35. Professor Benton commented that
it was important to use land appropriatelysome areas of
land were suited to livestock, other areas of highly productive
land were suited to grow grain, and given the high price of wheat,
it was unlikely that such land would be given to livestock. He
did however suggest that changing our habitual diet was a possibility
in the long run and would result in changed land use.
36. The Minister assured us that the
Government was not pursuing a policy to discourage people from
eating red meat, beef or lamb. He said, "We think that is
something that is a choice for consumers."
He also pointed out some benefits from pasture-fed animals:
Particularly when it comes to sheep,
actually having some grazing of sheep is quite important to maintaining
certain landscapes and habitats for certain types of insect, which
then themselves provide a feed for birds. Some of our agri-environment
schemes do indeed have requirements around stocking densities
and requirements for there to be some grazing to maintain some
of those habitats.
37. There is a significant challenge
to feed a growing global population in a sustainable manner. The
key question for us, is how the UK responds to that challengethat
is, what role it plays in global markets given that it is both
a small part of the global food economy, and its agriculture is
a relatively minor contributor to global GHG emissions.
38. Consumers should be able to make
informed choices about what and how much they consume, and health
and resource impacts should play a part in these choices. There
is an important role for protein from a variety of sources in
our diet, and some of the animals we consumefor example,
cattle and sheepalso play a vital role in ensuring our
hillsides and upland farms remain viable. The production of protein,
whether from animals or plants, must make efficient use of land
and water, and discourage waste and reduce harmful emissions.
39. We are concerned about the potential
impact of projected rising trends in global demand for animal
protein on the price of animal feeds and the cost of production.
The Government is aware of this issue and has funded some research
in this area.
40. In view of the significant strategic
risk and cost the UK is exposed to in relation to its animal feed
imports, we recommend that the Government give higher priority
to research to enable us to source more of our animal feed from
within the EU. The Government must promote the growth of more
legumes which ensure greater output per hectare. Additionally,
the Government should monitor the demand for soya and other animal
feeds at the global level and ensure that there is a long term
"Plan B" for animal proteins within the EU.
1 Defra (FSY 0044) para 7 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) para 6 Back
HM Government, Food 2030: How we get there, January 2010 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) Back
Research Councils UK (FSY 0016) Annex 1, para 3 Back
Germains Seed Technology (FSY 0008) Back
NFU (FSY 0029) para 9 Back
The Strategy was launched in 2014 and is discussed in detail in
chapter six Back
The Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions
have responsibilities in relation to affordability and access
to safe food and a healthy adequate diet. Back
Food and Drink Federation (FSY 0027) para 13 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) para 10 Back
Buy British fruit and veg to help the economy, www.bbc.co.uk Back
Defra, Agriculture in the UK 2012. Figure revised at 29 May 2014. Back
CLA (FSY 0043) para 3.5 Back
Q14. Thanet Earth has clarified that it supplies 12% of the UK
market for cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Back
Defra (FSY 0044) Back
Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of
Session 2013-14, Implementation of the CAP in England 2014-20,
HC 745 Back
British Retail Consortium (FSY 0018) para 3.8 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) para 14 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) para 14 Back
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February 2013 Back
UN, Comtrade database Back