UK sees need for radical rethink on food production

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 11th August 2009

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary in the UK, Hilary Benn, has proclaimed a need to change the way food is produced and processed so that we continue to enjoy healthy affordable food in the decades ahead.

The assessment, as part of a look into the future of food by 2030, shows that sustainability of foodsupply is the main challenge facing the world. In particular, the report advises of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a changing climate that will affect what food can be grown and where and how it can be grown. The assessment also highlights the availability and effective use of water to produce food – the need to get more ‘crop per drop’.

“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,” Mr Benn noted. “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.”

Mr Benn agrees that a global perspective is required to solve the problem of food security, with long-term thinking needing to prevail over the short-term mindset.

He added that there were three big challenges that needed to be met:

* how to meet the economic and environmental challenges of increased productivity in the food chain;
* how to help people eat more healthily and ensure people have access to safe, affordable food;
* how to ensure that the way food is produced today doesn’t damage the natural resources on which future food production depends.

“Our food strategy will need to cover all aspects of our food – production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption and disposal. And that includes the impact on our health, on the environment and future productivity, and on how we deal with food waste,” Mr Benn concluded.

The leading representative of food manufacturers in Britain, the Food and Drink Federation, has echoed the sentiments of the Environment Minister.

“It’s great that the Government is waking up to the importance of these debates,” Andrew Kuyk, Food and Drink Federation Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness, said. “Along with our food chain partners, we have been pressing Ministers for some time to make sustainable food production a top Government priority in its own right – so the publication of Food 2030 is a step in the right direction.”

“But 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.”

“It’s time we started to turn the debate into action,” Mr Kuyk added. “Given that it is now a year since the Cabinet Office published its Food Matters report, we would urge Government to accelerate its efforts to work with manufacturers and our food chain partners to develop a food vision and strategy that takes full account of our economic, strategic and social importance to the UK.”