Today, tourists are astonished when they come and taste some the best food in the world.
On my visit to the Great Yorkshire Show last week I saw some of the best of our farming heritage and our regional specialist food economy. Yorkshire and the Humber has the largest concentration of food and drink businesses in the UK, which contributes £1.7bn a year to the UK economy.
In Wakefield, we have our famous rhubarb and liquorice festivals, award-winning sausages from Blacker Hall Farm, and fantastic beer from Ossett and Clark’s breweries. Innovative young chefs, like Liam Duffy and his Iris restaurant, are using their talents to bring great cooking to Yorkshire.
These small craft businesses are providing jobs and growth in a semi-rural area, working alongside a supportive local council who understands the role food can play in driving tourism and creating a sense of place.
Food will be one of the major challenges of the 21st century. The world will need to feed eight billion people by 2025. Emerging demand in new markets, lack of access to land and water, and the changing weather, are putting pressure on the global food system. A rising population, climate change and water stress will affect how this country produces its food.
There are huge pressures on the UK’s food system. This year’s late and exceptionally cold spring, and last year’s wet and erratic seasons, mean times continue to be tough, particularly for livestock farmer struggling with the rising cost of grain. Life is getting harder for many families too. Food prices are rising faster than wages and there is a cost of living crisis. The recent horsemeat scandal sparked a debate about how Britain’s food is produced, traced and regulated.
In spite of the challenges, the food industry has the potential to create jobs, boost UK growth and drive the economy. Labour believes that there are opportunities to boost our food security, produce more food in the UK and create new markets to export the best of British produce.
The more we produce in the UK, the less we need to import, the more we are protected from currency fluctuations, and the more we can export.
The food and farming sector is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK: 400,000 people work in food processing and manufacturing in the UK, and exports amount to £11bn. Currently, Britain imports 40 per cent of our food. Labour believes there are opportunities to boost our domestic food security, produce more food in the UK and to boost our exports to new emerging markets. This is an ambitious approach. I believe that we can produce more food as a nation while addressing the decline in biodiversity that we have seen over the last 60 years. But it will require government leadership and a clear strategy.
That is why, last week, I launched Labour’s review of Britain’s food supply and the challenges that face our food system. You can read our document – Feeding the Nation: creating a resilient, growing food industry – online at www.YourBritain.org.uk.
Groups like the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and National Farmers Union (NFU) are calling on retailers to support local farmers. The CPRE have urged supermarkets to stock more local produce, with at least 10 per cent of sales coming from goods produced within 30 miles of a store.
I would like to see schools, hospitals and central and local government procuring more food to British standards. These are the ideas we are looking at in Feeding the Nation, to help boost our food industry, create jobs and spend public money better.
The free market, de-regulatory approach of the current coalition Government is letting us down.
Labour in government published Food 2030, the first national food strategy since the Second World War, setting out a vision for a sustainable and secure food supply in the UK. That work has been ignored by the coalition. We set up a Cabinet sub-committee to bring together the relevant government departments involved in food. The coalition Government scrapped it. There is no food strategy for England and no co-ordination of food policy across government. After the 2010 election, the Government split up the labelling responsibilities of the Food Standards Agency creating a fragmented approach to food governance. That split was criticised by Professor Pat Troop in her review of the handling of the horsemeat scandal.
There are huge opportunities for Britain to lead the world on food. We have some of the world’s best universities and research centres on agriculture, food and environmental sciences. We need to find practical applications for this research and translate it into commercial and business opportunities.
We want a growing food industry, pride in our culinary craft and farming traditions, and more great food.