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UK future food security threatened by complacency, MPs warn

 
Thanet Earth Greenhouse, U.K.

The MPs recommended that farmers should seek to extend growing seasons by using giant greenhouses such as the vast Thanet Earth building. Photograph:Rick Strange/Alamy

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK future food security threatened by complacency, MPs warn” was written by Damian Carrington, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st July 2014 05.15 UTC

The UK’s ability to feed itself is threatened by “complacency” over the extreme weather driven by climate change and increasing competition for food as the world’s population grows, MPs warned on Tuesday.

The environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) select committee said ministers must put plans in place to secure supplies of fruit and vegetables and the soya needed to feed the nation’s dairy herds, noting that the UK’s self-sufficiency for food that can be grown domestically has fallen from 87% to 68% in 20 years. The MPs also urged the embracing of technology, including genetically modified crops and robots that weed fields.

“Complacency is a genuine risk to future UK food security,” said Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP and chair of the Efra committee. “If we want our food production and supply systems to be secure, government and food producers must plan to meet the impacts of climate change, population growth and increasing global demand for food.”

The report says the biggest long-term challenge to food production is the impact of extreme weather events resulting from climate change. One proposal to combat this, say the MPs, is for supermarkets shorten their supply chains. “It is clear this significantly reduces the threat of disruption and helps ensure consumers know exactly where their food comes from,” the MPs’ report states.

The report found that levels of self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables have fallen the most. The MPs recommended that farmers should seek to extend growing seasons by, for example, using giant greenhouses such as the vast Thanet Earth building that now produces one-third of all the UK’s cucumbers and tomatoes.

The report also found a “heavy dependence” on imported soybeans to feed livestock and dairy herds and that almost 90% of the imports come from Brazil. But the MPs noted that fast-rising demand for protein in China, India and elsewhere meant competition for soybeans was a “significant strategic risk”. The MPs said” “The government needs to put in place a plan for alternative [UK- or EU-grown] animal feed.”

In April, farming minister George Eustice told the Efra committee: “Food security is not just about self-sufficiency at a national level. Actually having open markets and free trade globally has got a very important role to play in making sure we have food security.”

The MPs noted that yields of the UK’s most important staple crop, wheat, have not increased for at least 15 years. “There are many technological developments which could help to improve productivity in a sustainable manner,” the report concluded. It cited precision farming, where GPS location devices are used to tailor irrigation and fertiliser and pesticide use within fields.

The report backs GM crops for the UK: “The government must address [public] concerns, using available science to counter food safety fears.”

But it said there was not enough funding of research on agricultural technology.

The report also warned that there were not enough young people taking up farming. “Efforts must be made to encourage new entrants who are willing and able to take advantage of new technologies in order to ensure the sector is modern and competitive.”

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, is an enthusiastic supporter of GM crops but has almost halved the funding for adaptation to climate change in the UK. The last goverment published a 20-year food security strategy in 2010 but food security is not one of the current food and farming policies being prioritised by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

 

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