Food shortages offer opportunities says Benn

Environment secretary Hilary Benn said growing food shortages and soaring prices should be viewed as an opportunity by domestic producers.

Environment secretary Hilary Benn said growing food shortages and soaring prices should be viewed as an opportunity by domestic producers.

Benn blamed the drought in Australia, the population explosion that will lead to an extra two billion mouths to feed and the rising prosperity in China and India for the rise in food prices.

Speaking at the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board's Barbecue last night in the Westminster Abbey Gardens he said these three factors particularly the extra two billion mouths to feed will mean the world will need a large number of farmers producing a lot of food. "As the world changes we will have to reflect on this and so we are publishing a paper on food security. We need to answer some tough questions and look at the way we produce food and tackle climate change."

Benn added that he wanted a strong agricultural and horticultural industry in the UK, as domestic production was fundamental to Britain's food security. "I will work with you in the months ahead in that endeavour. We have a great opportunity and we have to seize it."

Benn also defended his decision to invest in developing cattle and badger vaccines, instead of the farming lobby's calls to cull badgers. "I believe I made the right decision," he said.

Mindful of the widespread media attacks on Gordon Brown's carbon footprint in attending the G8 summit, John Bridge, chairman of the AHDB, said the carbon footprint for his speech was small having been crafted by one person and a lap top.

He then went onto say that reform of the levy bodies was not reform for reform's sake. It was about three things: to ensure that levy payers were at the heart of everything the ADHB does, to provide appropriate accountability to parliament and levy payers and to provide cost efficient and relevant services.

Bridge added that reform was necessary because agriculture in the UK was facing massive change, which cannot be seen as a one-off even but as a continuous influence on the sector for the foreseeable future. "The agriculture and horticulture sectors need a levy system that understands this, reacts to it and provides support which is relevant to the needs of the sector.

"This has been reform with a purpose - to position the UK agriculture and horticulture sectors, not only as leaders but as innovators supplying local, national and global markets competitively and sustainably."

Bridge said the rationalisation of service delivery across all sectors and movement of all operations onto one site in Stoneleigh would generate £3.5m in annual savings which could be redeployed into front-line services.

There was, he explained, a need to forge stronger links within the agriculture and horticulture and to present well argued and consistent messages to the outside world and to work with partners "who share our ambition".

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