The UK has become increasingly reliant on imported food and its faith in the long-term surety of the global market is misplaced, according to research released by the Soil Association.
The association claims that its report, An Inconvenient Truth About Food, highlights the need for a future-proofed ‘Food Plan For Britain’ in order to transform the UK’s current food and farming system into one based on regionalised processing and distribution networks.
The report, drawing a link between self-sufficiency and food security, claims that the reliability of the global food market “has been called into question”. This has serious implications for food firms who operate on a global basis, and who rely on availability of commodities and other ingredients from overseas in order to make products.
The conclusions are largely due to the soaring costs of food commodities, which are then passed on to the consumer. The report blames this on a variety of factors, including the rising demand for animal feed due to growing meat consumption in increasingly affluent developing nations such as China and recent poor harvests amongst key exporters such as Australia.
The association contrasts its own view with that of government body Defra (the Department for Envrironment, Food and Rural Affairs). Defra supports ‘comparative advantage’, the economic theory that a country should not try to produce everything it needs but only the things it is best at producing.
Speaking to FoodNavigator.com, Defra spokesperson Tim Dunford said, “The UK is a trading nation. Trade benefits the economy and contributes to a varied diet.”
The Soil Association says that it “is not anti-trade”, nor does it wish to see a return to the days of 100 per cent self-sufficiency and the associated insecurity – for example, in terms of a UK-specific disease outbreak.
However, it does suggest that the government needs to set food production targets, establish an optimum level of national self-sufficiency and look at the resilience of the UK’s food supply.
Dunford called the report “a welcome contribution to the debate”. However, he said that Defra’s position on the matter is that using varied food suppliers increases security “because it means we are not overly reliant on any one source”.
In a report earlier this year, Defra claimed that the majority of the UK’s food and drink imports came from other EU member states, which it says are “low-risk, stable trading partners”.
However, the Soil Association says that the Union’s own reliance on external imports for commodities such as fertilisers puts it at risk too.
Food security is defined by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation as being “when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
The report, based on research by City University, London, was released yesterday at the Soil Association’s conference, ‘Transition: Food and Farming in 21st Century Britain’, which continues today in Bristol.
The full report can be viewed here .