Call for radical rethink of UK food policy
Published:  10 August, 2009

The UK needs to radically rethink the way in which food is produced and processed if we are to enjoy food security in the future, Hilary Benn said today.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary was talking at the launch of the country’s first food security assessment, which analyses the current state of the UK’s food supply and highlights the key challenges to a sustainable future.

The assessment was published by Defra today as part of a consultation package seeking views on the future strategy for UK food production. The package includes ‘Food 2030’, an online consultation; an update on progress on the 2008 Cabinet Office ‘Food Matters’ report and draft indicators for the sustainability of the food system.

Benn said: “Last year, the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises. While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden. We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.

“Globally we need to cut emissions and adapt to the changing climate that will alter what we can grow and where we can grow it. We must maintain the natural resources – soils, water, and biodiversity – on which food production depends. And we need to tackle diet-related ill health that already costs the NHS and the wider economy billions of pounds each year.

“And because we live in an interconnected world – where the price of soya in Brazil affects the price of steak at the local supermarket – we need to look at global issues that affect food security here.

“That’s why we need to consider what food system should look like in 20 years, and what must happen to get there. We need everyone in the food system to get involved – from farmers and retailers to the health service, schools and consumers.”

Benn said that the strategy will need to cover all aspects of the UK’s food – including production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption and disposal – as well as the impact on health and the environment.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the publication, describing the publication of ‘Food 2030’ as “a step in the right direction”, but criticised the short-term view of the assessment.

Andrew Kuyk, FDF director of Sustainability and Competitiveness, said: “We need a genuine long-term vision and strategy for farming and food production – one that is designed to ensure the nation’s food security against the combined effects of climate change, higher global demand and increasing pressure on finite resources.

“The published food security assessment looks only at the next five to 10 years, which is not sufficient to reflect the longer-term risks we already know are out there.”

Pointing out that food manufacturers must play a leading role in developing any future food strategy, Kuyk urged the government to accelerate its efforts to work with the food chain and secure a competitive food manufacturing base.

“It’s time we started to turn the debate into action,” he said.

The government’s food strategy for the future will be published later in the year, drawing on responses to the consultation launched today.

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