If there is anything that might put you off your food it is the sound of the President of the NFU going on about the need for greater food production, and he was banging on about this some time over the Christmas break.
Some might think that there is huge hypocrisy in the NFU position being pro-biofuels at the same time as talking about the need for more food production. And some might think that all this talk of food production is just an attempt to find some moral high ground for an industry that has presided over the removal of wildlife from the countryside. Some might think that talking about starvation is a rather crude way to attempt to justify reducing regulation on farmers and protecting or increasing the already vast amounts of public money that go into farming.
But maybe nobody thinks those things, but that doesn’t mean that anyone would be as foolish as to think that UK food production is anything but a drop in the ocean in feeding the world, nor that increased food production in the UK is going to go straight into the mouths of the starving across the world.
Under current circumstances, increasing our food production would allow us to sell more food to the EU – 10 out of the top 11 countries (in terms of economic value to us) to which we export food are EU countries with the USA being in the mix. Ireland is the country to which we export most food and our soup sales are doing very well there but unless we are servicing Ireland’s soup kitchens and that is freeing up resources to send to the world’s most needy countries then it is difficult to see how our increased production is feeding the world. Yes we live in a connected single world but the connections are rather more complicated than the diet of ‘hungry world – more UK food production’ that we are fed by some in the farming industry. Our sales of chocolate to South Africa almost doubled in the first 6 months of 2012 compared with the same months of 2011.
Wait for the NFU to argue that the best way to kick-start the UK economy is to give money to farmers (hang on – they already do!) and that the easiest way to reduce poverty in Africa is to give more money to barley barons in Cambridgeshire.
Government is a bit more honest about all this. Owen Paterson said “We want Defra to be the agency that’s growing the rural economy,” he said. “And do that by unblocking any regulatory barriers abroad or here. In simple terms, we want to get out of people’s hair so they can get on and produce products they think suit the market best.”
Paterson is building on Jim Paice’s work to increase pork exports to China – there isn’t much about feeding the world in this, it’s about British jobs and the rural economy, the same as most export drives. Oh, and we’ll sell more cheese to the French too.
It’s difficult for NGOs to argue against food production as it sounds a bit churlish, so I was interested to see the recent position statement by Wildlife and Countryside Link on food production:
- The farmers, landowners and food producers creating and maintaining a high quality natural environment need to be properly rewarded for the provision of ‘public goods’
- Government policies must ensure that food production in the UK is environmentally sustainable and must not promote increases in production where this damages or degrades the environment, human well-being or animal welfare
- Agri-tech solutions to increasing food production, including genetic modification (GM), should not be promoted at the expense of developing and implementing agro-ecological approaches
- Taking land out of production for conservation or flooding should be recognised as providing important environmental benefits
- The EU should lead the way in developing and implementing sustainable responses to climate change in agriculture
- The CAP should be reformed to create a European Sustainable Land Management Policy that supports the delivery of environmental public goods across Europe.
- Steps should be taken by the EU and the Government to prevent biofuel production damaging the environment and contributing to increases in the price of food
- Introducing measures to reduce food waste should be made a priority
- Steps should be taken to encourage more sustainable diets to address the environmental issues arising from food consumption
- The benefits of extensive grazing systems should be given greater recognition and support by policy makers and the food industry
This statement was agreed by Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Plantlife, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildlife Trusts, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Woodland Trust, WWF-UK. The National Trust is again conspicuous by its absence but the big-hitters are all in this list.
I would generally agree with this list but some of it is written in code, and some of it might even be wrong. Such is the fate of joint statements.
Here would be my version of the same points:
- Reducing food waste is far more important than increasing food production
- More sustainable diets, particularly eating less, and eating less meat, would reduce many environmental issues arising from food production
- We should put more effort into making EU marine fisheries sustainable if we are remotely serious about increasing food production sustainably
- Use of biofuels in the EU should cease
- Government policies must ensure that food production in the UK is environmentally sustainable and must not promote increases in production where this degrades the environment, reduces human well-being or increases animal suffering
- Land is used for more than food production and landowners who create and maintain a high quality natural environment need to be properly rewarded, and those who do not should not be rewarded except by the market
- New approaches to food production, including genetic modification, should be promoted if they promote sustainable food production
- Agriculture must make its full contribution to meeting UK Climate Change Act commitments of 80% CO2 reductions by 2050 and that might entail reducing food production
Maybe you could do much better?
I wonder what the NFU thinks of these two lists and whether they have their own list? Let’s ask them – click here and don’t forget to point out that you pay for the billions of pounds invested by the taxpayer to farming each year.