For the first time in 60 years a UK government has produced a document setting out its strategy for the future of food production. Hilary Benn, DEFRA Secretary unveiled this at the start of the Oxford Farming Conference.
Mr Benn should be given credit for this because up until 2007 he appeared to have no concerns about food security and followed the usual government line that we would always be able to import any amount of food.
He now seems to want a strong but sustainable UK farming industry and we hope that his turnaround is partly due to him reading our book Famine in the West which he described in September 2007 as very interesting and which he passed to DEFRA policy officials for them to read.
Mr Benn said society had begun to take food supply for granted in the last few decades. “But the truth is now apparent. We cannot take it for granted anymore… We know we are at one of those moments in history where the future of our economy, our environment, and our society will be shaped by the choices we make now.”
Many people think that the 84 page document shows well what the government would like to see happen but says little about how to get there.
My opinion is that it is a very good start but they need to make specific plans to deal with major future problems such as sudden severe energy shortages brought on by geo-political events such as future conflict in the Middle East.
The present government has up until now taken the view that Britain is a trading nation that is best at producing high tech goods and providing financial services such as banking and insurance. Food should be imported from the cheapest areas while our farmers act as glorified wildlife custodians.
But in documents recently released, DEFRA acknowledges that food security can no longer be taken for granted and pressure on natural resources across the globe is making markets more volatile. Hilary Benn has been on TV and in the press saying that UK farmers should produce a bigger proportion of our food.
The papers state that the UN predicts the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050, and as we have often pointed out, this needs to be done at a time when we will be short of land, water, oil and fertiliser. We will also have severe climatic disruption due to climate change.
We recieved a letter from Mr Benn over a year ago saying that he found the points raised in our book “Famine in the West” interesting and that he would be passing a copy to Defra policy officials for them to read.