Here to stay

PTF chairman spells out the facts of trading in a global market

UK food producers should wake up to the fact that cheap imports are a fact of life, a leading trade figure has warned. "In the short term at least, demand for cheap, good quality food will increase, and if the UK can't produce it then there will be more imports.

"Food is different to other industries such as textiles - but perhaps it is not all that different," Arthur Reeves, chairman of the Provision Trade Federation, told the 800 attendees at the annual PTF dinner in the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. He added: "We must not waste valuable time and energy forcing the debate in the other direction because that's not want consumers want.

"The consumer is king and though the consumer may not be always be right they do lead trends which the provision trade must follow. We can and should use this to our advantage as a trading industry and trading nation. If consumers out there want pink cheese or purple bacon then I'm sure that one of us in this room will be able to find it.... at the appropriate price," he said.

Mr Reeves also explained that it would be impossible for the UK to become completely self sufficient in food production - unless it withdrew from the EU and restricted the choice of products available on shop shelves.

"Firstly, the people who believe in UK self sufficiency do not realise, or chose to ignore, that we are not simply little Britain but are part of the European Union. The second issue is whether it is physically possible to be self sufficient, even in our indigenous agricultural products," he said.

"When you consider these questions it becomes clear that to be nationally self-sufficient we would to have to withdraw from the EU and at the same time subject consumers to a significant reduction in choice of products available to them. Would consumers really be willing to make this sacrifice, unless of course, we were at war - or in the teeth of some other equivalent crisis."

He pointed to the pork market where the UK is nearly three quarters self sufficient in pork and in the case of bacon and ham, just under 50 per cent. This was due to high production costs, Mr Reeves said. "It is also due to the fact that, to increase self-sufficiency, pig farmers would have to find a viable market for those parts of the pig that UK consumers do not want to eat, for example, belly, trotters and offal. This is no easy task.

"The obvious market for these, the Far East is already cornered by competition from other countries at extremely competitive prices. To achieve greater self sufficiency in the British pork industry there would need to be an answer to this."

Meanwhile, Mr Reeves said the unrelenting increases in energy and raw materials costs would impact shop prices, despite the efforts of producers to minimise the effects of these hikes.

"Some estimates put this increase at a staggering £7.5 billion over the past year... although we will reduce this total bill by cost-saving measures in the end, it is likely that the consumer will have to pay for some of it. So we all clearly have an interest in making consumers aware of the measures we are taking to keep increases to a minimum."

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