Farming leader hands out warning over food imports

FARMERS' leader Peter Kendall has warned the Government not to allow its commitment to "localism" to stop bigger and more efficient farming.In his New Year message, the NFU president said the need for imported food would go up unless politicians acted decisively in 2011.

He said: "2011 will see the new government laying the policy foundations that will be critical to whether Britain's farmers can rise to the food production challenge of the next 20 years.

"The UK's own population is set to grow from 62 million to over 70 million by 2030. If home production levels stay the same, we'll become ever more dependent on imports.

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"As it is, we're already buying in more than 40 per cent of our food – up from around 25 percent 20 years ago. With eight million more mouths to feed, we'll be edging towards one in every two meals coming, in effect, from food grown abroad.

"I'm not suggesting we need to take an isolationist approach to food production; we're a trading nation and trade is also vital to our food security.

"It ensures variety, and is an opportunity for the industry too. But if we're going to ensure food supplies for UK consumers, it is in our national interest to produce more in the UK.

"It is not just me saying that. It's a formal objective, set out in black and white in Defra's business plan. And food security – at least on a global scale – is on the radar elsewhere in government too. Research and Development spend was protected from the worst of the cuts and the new Global Food Security programme has been prioritised in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

"What worries me is not the Government's commitment to ensuring big-picture global food security, but its commitment to ensuring that local food supply here at home is encouraged and enabled. A narrow localist agenda could pose a serious threat to the growth we need, whether from state-of-the-art polytunnels for soft-fruit production, high-output glasshouses for vegetables, or the latest in lower-carbon, high-welfare, pig and poultry units.

"Localism needs leadership otherwise it is nothing more than a recipe for Nimbyism. That is why it is absolutely crucial that the Government includes food production as a strategic priority in its new national planning framework.

"This is a Government which is shouting from the rooftops that it wants growth. Our farms can help deliver that growth. It's a Government that wants to strip away red tape that stifles entrepreneurship and we're enthusiastic about that too. It is also a Government that wants to see a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That is where we need leadership from the top, giving local decision-makers a steer about the bigger national interest.

"Let 2011 be the year in which the Government takes its own commitment to increasing food production seriously and puts in place a policy framework that will enable Britain's producers to keep up with demand. Planning is one example, and a litmus test of how seriously the Government takes this commitment."

On December 20, a week after the headline-grabbing Localism Bill was presented to Parliament, Greg Clark, a Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, announced that the Government would also be publishing a "national planning framework" to try to reconcile local and national concerns. He invited suggestions for what should be included and Mr Kendall was responding to that invitation.

Comment: Page 10.