NFU23: Food security in a changing world

21 February 2023

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw talks with Professor Tim Benton from Royal Institute of International Affairs

Food system transformation is needed to enhance human health, protect biodiversity reduce climate impacts and build resilience, NFU Conference was told in the food security session.

Food security expert Professor Tim Benton made the claim while speaking to NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw.

He went on to say that the government’s main strategies will not achieve this change

Prof Benton said: “Productivity growth and land sparing, our current government’s main strategies, will not achieve the necessary social outcomes.

“We need to change the structure of the market to enable the consumption change to enable you to get a fair wage for delivering more sustainable goods. And that might be incentivised by the next five years of geopolitical change.”

Government needs to lead

“We talk all the time about innovation – the technology silver bullet – but we need institutional innovation and we need governance innovation.

“And we need government to stand up to create a long-term vision for change that will deliver what you need as farmers, as business people, and what citizens need in terms of dealing with the environment and access to a healthy diet in a way that they can afford. So we need the government to lead,” Prof Benton said.

Making the system better

Prof Benton said there was growing recognition in society that we need to better make our food system better for a number of reasons, including our health and diet.

“Our food system is now part of the problem from a social perspective because of poor health and diet.”

Professor Tim Benton Director, Environment and Society Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House

“Our food system is now part of the problem from a social perspective because of poor health and diet. Globally, one in ten people in the world is now chronically undernourished, but 40% are overweight or obese.

“In the UK, nearly two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and that is part of the reason why we have the pressure on the health service. We need to get our diets right to save the health service as much as we need to get our agriculture sustainable to save the environment.

Producing healthy food

“From a health perspective, at a global level, we do not grow, we do not incentivise through the market, production of food sufficient to allow people to eat healthily. We grow about a third of the fruit and vegetables that would be needed if everyone ate five a day.

“We need to transform our food system to get health right, we need to transform our food system to get the environment right and, as 2022 has shown, we also need to transform our food system to get resilience right.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Tom Bradshaw

NFU Deputy President

Tom farms in partnership with his wife, Emily, and his parents in North Essex. Alongside a small owned farm they run a larger contract farming business growing a range of combinable crops across 950 hectares in North East Essex.

The home farm is based around arable production but has also diversified into equestrian and renewables.

Tom has represented the NFU from Local Branch Chairman through to Chair of the National Combinable Crops Board.

Officeholder responsibilities 

  • Animal health and welfare including bTB
  • Climate change and net zero
  • Water and air issues
  • Clean air strategy
  • Workforce supply and training
  • Farm assurance and labelling
  • Food safety
  • Banking
  • Animal ID and movements

Professor Tim Benton

Research Director, Emerging Risks, Chatham House

Professor Tim G. Benton leads the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House. He joined Chatham House in 2016 as a distinguished visiting fellow, at which time he was also dean of strategic research initiatives at the University of Leeds. 

From 2011-2016 he was the ‘champion’ of the UK’s Global Food Security programme which was a multi-agency partnership of the UK’s public bodies (government departments, devolved governments and research councils) with an interest in the challenges around food.

As a leading advocate on food systems transformation, he has worked with UK governments, the EU, G20 and a range of other governments around the world, as well as leading businesses and civil society organisations. He has been a global agenda steward of the World Economic Forum, and was an author of the IPCC’s Special Report on Food, Land and Climate (2019), and the UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (2017, 2022).

He has published more than 200 academic papers, many tackling how systems respond to environmental change. His work on sustainability leadership has been recognized with an honorary fellowship of the UK’s Society for the Environment, and a doctorate honoris causa from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.  He also remains a (part time) Research Professor at the University of Leeds.

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