Reliance on imports must end

Farming leaders are to put pressure on government to reverse what they claim is the country’s “growing dependence on imports”.

Speaking at the annual National Farmers’ Union conference today (Tuesday 15 March), president Peter Kendall called on Defra secretary of state Caroline Spelman to take action to close the UK’s widening food gap, saying that rich countries should not be sitting back and expecting the rest of the world to feed its people.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Kendall said: “The Foresight report is another wake-up call. Bold actions and difficult decisions will be needed. I’m asking the government to look at our own growing population’s reliance on supplies from the rest of the world as part of its response to the report.

“I’ve heard a number of commentators sitting on their high horses and talking about how bad export bans are. But if we’re going to have a debate about morality, I honestly believe that a country short of food trying to protect its own people’s supplies by banning grain exports is nothing compared to rich countries allowing their agriculture to decline and then expecting the rest of the world to feed them.

“I will be asking Caroline Spelman to lead the way at Defra and ensure that a food plan is drawn up, alongside the other White Papers on the natural environment and water that her department is working on – and quite rightly; biodiversity and water resources are flagged up as major concerns by the Foresight group. But where’s the food plan?

“On the future of the Common Agriculture Policy, I will be urging the secretary of state to focus on developing the fair and functioning markets which the Foresight report talks about. Again, that’s not just about export bans ‘out there’ in the rest of the world; it’s about how markets work within Europe and the UK.

"Simply ending subsidies won’t miraculously make the markets work. We need to drive competitiveness and manage volatility in the markets first to give UK producers – those working at the sharp end of the food chain – the chance to do what they what to do; stand on their own two feet and make a living.

“I think everyone at conference will be with me when I say UK farmers are part of the answer to the grand global challenges which have been laid bare even in the past 12 months. We need the Government to accept that too – and make a place for farming at the top of its own agenda.”

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