Rishi Sunak must back British food production and farmers or he could face the nightmare scenario of empty supermarket shelves, writes NFU president MINETTE BATTERS
Yesterday, leading figures from the food and farming sector gathered at 10 Downing Street for a summit called by the Prime Minister on food security.
Do not underestimate the significance of this event. It represents a landmark moment – and recognition, finally, of the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation.
I’m a beef farmer in Wiltshire. While running a farm is a way of life, to see this work now being recognised as vital to Britain’s heritage, its economy and future, is a true testament to the work of farmers and growers. These are the people I represent as head of the National Farmers’ Union.
For more than three years, the NFU has been spearheading the campaign to get government to take food security seriously. We work to ensure that our farmers and growers are able to compete and thrive in a post-Brexit world. Support from the Daily Mail and its readers has been instrumental in what we have achieved.
Yesterday, leading figures from the food and farming sector gathered at 10 Downing Street for a summit called by the Prime Minister on food security. Pictured: National Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters
Rishi Sunak has done what other prime ministers have failed to do: he has said he will ensure British farmers will no longer be an ‘afterthought’ in trade deals, writes Minette Batters
More than a million of you signed our recent petition to safeguard food standards – helping to ensure the food we eat, wherever it comes from, is produced to Britain’s exacting standards of environmental protection and animal welfare.
More than 80,000 of you wrote to your MPs backing our call for action to ensure world-class British food producers weren’t driven out of business by a flood of cheap, low-quality imports. I am pleased to say that Rishi Sunak has done what other prime ministers have failed to do: he has said he will ensure British farmers will no longer be an ‘afterthought’ in trade deals. Mr Sunak added that his government is ‘prepared to do what is right to protect particularly sensitive sectors’ and vowed to ‘protect food standards in the UK under all existing and future free trade agreements’.
These words matter – and the NFU will hold him to them.
Last August, Mr Sunak spoke to NFU farmers and growers at a Conservative Party leadership hustings event. He committed to a yearly ‘stocktake’ of British food, an annual national food-security summit and, at a minimum, to maintaining the levels of food produced in Britain. Since then, we have worked to ensure these promises were kept. Last December, the NFU called an emergency press conference to highlight the supply-chain issues that had left many supermarket shelves empty. The Government faced a stark choice – back British food production to secure a home-grown supply of sustainable food or risk seeing more empty shelves.
I firmly believe yesterday’s summit, looking at food from farm to fork, demonstrates an important first step in the repositioning of food and food security in Britain. It is a recognition that these issues are as important to our national security as a plentiful supply of energy.
While running a farm is a way of life, to see this work now being recognised as vital to Britain’s heritage, its economy and future, is a true testament to the work of farmers and growers
The announcements made around the summit are also welcome and will go a long way to supporting our precious food-producing sector for generations to come.
One concerned a commitment to protect sensitive sectors in trade deals: something that was ignored when we signed the recent trade deal with Australia, much to our Antipodean cousins’ delight. This will help ensure a level playing field for our farmers and growers – the basis of all the NFU’s demands around trade – and will mean there will be no chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef in the UK market.
But there is still much to be done. To match its ambitions for food and farming in Britain, and to prevent further food shortages, the Government needs to set ambitious targets for domestic food production, just as it has done for housing, energy and the environment.
A commitment to growing Britain’s food-production self-sufficiency beyond the current 60 per cent, with a statutory duty to report on domestic food levels, would reinforce the importance of a secure supply of safe, affordable and sustainably produced home-grown food, helping to prevent further shortages.
I am optimistic that the first food-security summit will mark a sea change in the way British food and British food producers are valued.
We know the British public gets it. Now we might just have a government that gets it, too.