NFU seeks public backing to make food a political priority

FARMERS ARE seeking to build on a swell of public support to firmly mark food production as a key priority for the next government.

NFU regional director Richard Pearson wants the public to 'vote for British food'.
NFU regional director Richard Pearson wants the public to 'vote for British food'.

After a 30-year downward spiral, Britain’s food self-sufficiency stands at 60 per cent which means that the nation would run out of food if it relied entirely on home-grown produce on August 7.

And Britain relies more heavily on imported food now than it did 25 years ago, with self-sufficiency at 75 per cent in 1991.

If the downward trend continues at the same rate, then British farmers could be producing just 53 per cent of the nation’s food in 25 years’ time.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) warned that this figure needs to increase, both to help reduce reliance on imported food and to maximise the agricultural industry’s contribution to the economy.

The appetite for change is evident from consumers, the NFU said, with a recent survey showing how 86 per cent of shoppers are keen to buy more traceable food produced from British farms.

To champion the need to put food production at the heart of the next government’s policies, the NFU has launched its ‘Great British Food Gets My Vote’ campaign.

Richard Pearson, regional director of the NFU in Yorkshire and the North East, said: “We know that people want to see more British food on supermarket shelves; we know that support is there.

“Our decline in self-sufficiency is the result of a number of factors including contradictory farm policies at home and in Europe, declining investment in publicly funded research and development; poorly crafted regulation and weak bargaining power within the food chain.

“It means that the next government has a stark choice ahead - it either trusts the nation’s food security to volatile world markets or gets behind British food production.

“In response to this we are calling on the next government for a robust plan that will develop our productive potential, stimulate investment and ensure that the drive to increase our self-sufficiency is at the heart of every department.” The NFU said it had been pressing its message home in meetings with prospective parliamentary candidates across the region and added that members of the public also have the chance to vote online and demonstrate their support for British food and farming.

Anyone wanting to back the farming union’s new campaign can do so by going online and searching for ‘Vote British Food’. Pledge sheets will also soon be available at farm shops across the country.

Mr Pearson said: “Thousands have already added their name to the online register and we hope thousands more will do so before the election - especially as the campaign will soon start appearing in farm shops across Yorkshire where people can add their support quickly and easily.

“This will really send a strong message to everyone heading to Westminster next month that food and farming is a priority for the nation that they must take seriously.”

To encourage members of the public to sign up to show their support for the campaign online, the NFU is highlighting the economic importance of farming and food to the economy.

Combined, the sectors provide more than 3.5 million jobs and during the tough economic period between 2007 and 2013, the amount the farming industry added to the economy grew by 67 per cent.

The campaign also promotes how British animal health and welfare standards are world-leading and that farmers care for the environment, with 450,000 hectares of land in England voluntarily put aside for wildlife.

Would EU exit hit farming?

With the nation’s membership of the EU a political battleground ahead of the general election, farmers are discussing what withdrawal would mean for the future of their industry.

The Farmer-Scientist Network, a group set up by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and based at the Great Yorkshire showground, has assembled a working party of EU agricultural subsidy experts from economics, law and political science; chaired by Professor Wyn Grant of Warwick University, to explore the pros and cons.

It is anticipated that the Network will encourage a more informed debate in the event of an in-out referendum.