Strong leadership on food security needed says Efra Committee report

An image of NFU President Minette Batters speaking on a panel

Photograph: NFU President Minette Batters speaks at the NFU's emergency 'Fairness for farmers and growers' press conference

One fifth of households experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in January 2023 according to a food security report published by the Efra Select Committee.

In its report, the committee found that the number of households experiencing food insecurity was at a greater proportion than it was during the pandemic, and quoted Lady Manningham Buller who warned that “many had taken food security granted”, at the NFU’s fifth annual Henry Plumb lecture.

Committee members put forward recommendations for the government to develop a suite of food security indicators that influence food security policy in order to maintain the UK’s current rate of self-sufficiency. NFU President Minette Batters said that the report’s finding that only 54% of the food eaten in UK is grown here as “shocking” and voiced her concerns that “this number could decrease further if British food and farming isn’t valued”.

Fertiliser availability is ‘crucial’

The report identified two key issues as particular challenges to the UK’s food supply; fertiliser production and carbon dioxide availability, and labour shortages.

On the former of these the report said: “the Government has not set out the steps it will take to protect domestic production of nitrogen fertiliser and ammonia used in it” and that “reliance on a single nitrogen fertiliser plant increases the risks to the UK’s food security”.

The report’s finding that only 54% of the food eaten in the UK is grown here is shocking.”

NFU President Minette Batters

Minette said the report’s acknowledgement of the risk of there only being one fertiliser factory in the UK was “timely” and referred to CF Fertiliser’s announcement earlier in the week, which confirmed it will be permanently closing its Billingham ammonia plant.

The committee suggested that the government should support increase production of fertiliser in the UK.

Labour shortages were also identified as having “seriously impacted the food and farming industry”, in the report’s reference to the findings of the government’s Independent Labour Review which was tasked with looking at labour shortages across agriculture, horticulture and the wider food supply chain.

Strong leadership needed

Minette welcomed the recommendation for “strong leadership on food security” and called on all government departments to take a “coordinated approach towards food policy”.

“At such a tricky time for many UK households, the report addresses much of the inflationary pressures experienced by both families and farmers and growers. Everyone should have access to affordable, quality, sustainable food and British farmers and growers need the support of Government to have the confidence to continue producing.

“Last summer the Prime Minister committed to introduce a new self-sufficiency target and annual reporting – clearly this needs to happen as a matter of urgency. With one of the best climates in the world for producing food, we should be aiming to produce more food here in the UK.

“For this to continue, we need to see Government act on the recommendations made by the Committee to bolster Britain’s food security.”

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