The UK Needs a Strategy for Farming and Future Food Production

The UK’s largest manufacturing industry is food production is but the final report from the soon-to-be-abolished Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) released in late March has criticised the lack of Government plans for its future.

Its review of the last decade argues that the Government must be actively involved in promoting sustainable food production and feeding growing populations healthily from locally grown food in order to meet the rising challenge of food poverty rather than relying on a “leave it to the market” approach.

The NFU (UK National Farmers’ Union) had also highlighted the issue of a lack of Government involvement at its annual conference in February 2011, where NFU president Peter Kendall, argued that the country needs a properly thought-through food strategy.

Otherwise the country will depend more and more on food imports, he said,.

Escalating prices since 2008 have affected not only consumers but also farmers, who are having to pay more for both animal feed and fuel. Farmers also consistently complain about the pressure from the major superstore retailers driving down prices to unsustainably low levels, where the return to farmers is lower than the cost of producing foods.

Key areas for action highlighted in the SDC report include reducing food waste to landfill to zero by 2015, reflecting the cost of a nutritious and sustainable diet in benefit and minimum wage levels and ensuring schools include cooking skills in the curriculum.

It also stresses that the decline in UK food production and helping to expand sustainable production of vegetable and fruit crops needs to be reversed.

Boosting production to meet the population growth at the same time as protecting the environment are the major challenges for food producers now and in the future and arguably need direct government involvement.

The EU has already introduced some initiatives to withdraw the older generation of pesticides, some of which have been shown to be harmful to both the land and to human health. However, this has led to fears among UK growers of crops, vegetables and fruit, that there are currently few alternatives licensed and available to them.

There are more environmentally friendly low-chem agricultural products, including biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers in the pipeline from the biopesticides developers but they are very expensive to get through the trial, registration and licensing processes and it can take several years.

This is just one instance of where a properly -funded, planned and government-driven food strategy can make a difference, not least if it were possible to get a common agreement between governments on the licencing criteria, rather than the country by country approach to regulation that can hamper efforts to get new, more environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural products out to the producers who need to use them to increase productivity, protect their yield from wastage that results from attacks by pests and diseases, protect their land’s fertility and to be able to bring healthier, residue free produce to consumers looking for healthy foods at a price they can afford.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers