EFRA calls for robust approach to food security

Sustainable intensification and focused government leadership are needed to address the needs of UK food security, a parliamentary report has claimed.

If the UK is going to handle issues such as extreme weather and increased global food demand, government must focus responsibility onto one department, and that should be Defra, according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA).

Launching a report on food production, supply and food security, committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “Complacency is a genuine risk to future UK food security. 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.

“At least three departments are now responsible for food security — Defra, BIS and DECC. To ensure coherent planning and action, overall strategy must be led by Defra, which must ensure a robust approach right across Whitehall.”

In order to achieve the holy grail of producing more with less, Defra must work to stem the decline in UK self-sufficiency, the EFRA report claimed.

It said the country was currently only 68% self-sufficient in foods that can be produced at home, a figure that has declined from 87% in the past 20 years.

Key aims called for in the report include supermarkets shortening their supply chains, farmers to extend seasonal food production, government reducing UK dependence on imported animal feeds, such as soy beans, and also working on a detailed emissions reduction plan for the entire UK agricultural sector.

McIntosh added: “If we are to curb emissions and adjust to climate change, we need a significant shift in how the UK produces food. For instance, livestock production contributes 49% of farm-related emissions, so we need more research to identify ways to curb this.”

The committee also said government must lead a public debate to counter consumer fears surrounding GM foods.

While the report has been welcomed by groups including the Food and Drink Federation and the World Wildlife Fund, the call for self-sufficiency flies in the face of views expressed at the recent World Meat Congress, in which Peter Barnard, of Meat & Livestock Australia, called on governments not to confuse food security with self-sufficiency. He said that as agricultural products were variable, to rely on one region or country for supply did not make sense.

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “. The report is spot on in highlighting the need for ‘sustainable intensification’, the development of more resilient food supply chains and the harnessing of technology.

“The UK is an extremely efficient grassland-based meat and livestock producer, and meat is an important part of a balanced diet. So our industry should step and be enabled to step up to play its role.”

Kim Matthews, head of research and development for Eblex, added: “It is encouraging to see the EFRA report acknowledge the vital role livestock production plays in producing food sustainably in this country and reiterating that the Government does not support a policy of discouraging people from eating red meat. Furthermore, it acknowledges that a reduction in grazing livestock numbers would have a negative environmental impact.

“Livestock production in Great Britain makes best use of our available land resource. Around 64% of agricultural land is only suitable for growing grass. Grazing cattle and sheep turn that into protein for humans. It is therefore a highly sustainable way of producing food for a growing population.

“The plentiful supply of grass means the total usage of soya in British beef cattle and sheep feeds is around 8% of GB soya use in animal feeds, and less than 0.1% of world production.

“Through our roadmap work, we have highlighted practical measures beef and sheep farmers can undertake to reduce their carbon footprint. Work commissioned by Eblex has shown that emissions from livestock production have fallen every decade for the last 40 years thanks to more efficient production methods. This works feeds through to the wider industry Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

“Our focus on exports is ensuring that we are able to sell overseas parts of the carcase for which there is no market domestically, reducing waste and helping carcase balance.

“However, there is still a long way to go. Feeding a growing population with a finite resource is one of the biggest challenges we face. This report shows the beef and lamb sector will an important part in responding to that challenge.”

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