Britain must increase home-grown food production and build stronger supply chains to face Brexit uncertainties, the National Farmers Union has said.
In an annual calculation to draw attention to the UK’s decline in food self-sufficiency, the NFU said the national larder would be bare this Sunday if Britain opted for a cliff-edge departure from Europe and imports became unavailable.
Such is the reliance on imported food that Britain does not even produce enough of staples including potatoes, beef, milk and cheese to feed the nation for an entire year, it found.
“Food self-sufficiency statistics have always been an important measure of the nation’s ability to feed itself. But since the UK voted to leave the EU, and with trade negotiations starting, the supply of British food is now seen in a very different light. Government recognition of farming’s enormous contribution to this country will be vital in the coming weeks and months,” said Meurig Raymond, NFU president.
The NFU has called on the government to grasp Brexit as an opportunity to reverse a steady decline in self-sufficiency over the past 30 years.
The farming union said that with the right support it would be easy to replace the salad mountain imported from east Africa, pork from countries such as Denmark and New Zealand, and beef and dairy from other EU countries such as Ireland.
“We’re not advocating a fully self-sufficient nation – we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates. But what we should be doing is maximising on the food production we are good at,” said Raymond.
The NFU said 30 years ago the country produced 80% of its own food, but now it was 60%.
“If we carry on at that rate of decline we could easily be down to 50% in 10 years, and that is a pretty insecure place to be,” said Raymond.
“The two main responsibilities of any government are to defend its people and feed its people. We are already among the least self-sufficient countries in Europe and dropping to below 50% would be a very insecure position to be in,” he added.