Consumers a key plank in future of food security

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th January 2010

Ensuring food security is just as important for the world’s future as energy supply, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn told delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference overnight as he unveiled the Government’s food strategy, Food 2030.

The UK’s Food Strategy sets out the challenges facing Britain in maintaining a secure food supply at a time of rapid population growth and climate change, and following the big price increases seen in 2008 following droughts and the rise in the price of oil.

Farming and food businesses contribute more than £80 billion (A$141b) to the economy and represent the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, employing 3.6 million people. In Australia, food production is a $100 billion industry, with over 315,000 people employed in the largest manufacturing sector in the country.

“Food security is as important to this country’s future wellbeing – and the world’s – as energy security,” Mr Benn said. “We need to produce more food. We need to do it sustainably. And we need to make sure that what we eat safeguards our health.

“We know that the consequences of the way we produce and consume our food are unsustainable to our planet and to ourselves. There are challenges for everyone involved in the food system, from production right through to managing food waste.

“We know we are at one of those moments in our history where the future of our economy, our environment, and our society will be shaped by the choices we make now.”

Mr Benn suggested that people power would be a key in bringing about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold, and that food businesses, including supermarkets and food manufacturers, would follow consumer demand for food that is local, healthy and has been produced with a smaller environmental footprint – just as consumers have pushed the rapid expansion of Fairtrade products and free range eggs over the last decade.

“A decade ago, only 16 per cent of eggs produced in the UK were free range. In the last ten years that’s more than doubled to just under 40 per cent. Waitrose, M&S and the Co-op now sell only free range or organic eggs. And with the UK 80 per cent self-sufficient in free-range eggs this is a great example of how our farmers have responded to what consumers want, to the benefit of both,” Benn advised.

He also said that government and food businesses needed to support consumers by providing more accurate information about the origin and nutritional content of the food they buy.

The food strategy sets out goals for 2030, and the changes that need to be made to achieve them, including: * Farmers producing efficiently, sustainably and safely to high standards of animal welfare, with food production supporting our rural communities and contributing to UK and global food security.
* Farmers and fishermen producing more with fewer resources and fewer carbon emissions, with investment in the right skills.
* An innovative, competitive, skilled and resilient food sector, supported by first class scientific research and development, with sustainable supply chains..
* Informed consumers able to choose and afford healthy food, supported by better labelling and information.
* Government support for partnerships, funding of research, regulating where necessary and cutting red tape where possible, leading by example through public food procurement, and campaigning for change in Europe and globally.

The leading representative of food manufacturers in the region, the Food and Drink Federation, welcomed the food strategy, noting that the time for action was upon us.

“We have consistently called for a new Government approach that makes sustainable and competitive food production a key priority in its own right. Today’s launch of the Food 2030 vision marks the start of such a process,” Melanie Leech, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation, said. “We look forward to working with Government to turn words into action; ensuring our sector continues to thrive so that we can provide the innovation and growth that Food 2030 recognises will be vital if we are to ensure the nation’s future food security while supporting the creation of a low-carbon economy in the UK.”