Positive commitments on future food security must now be actioned following the Government Food Summit hosted yesterday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street.
Having graciously accepted an invite on Tuesday’s Government Food Summit the National Sheep Association (NSA) is welcoming the encouraging pledges made to support UK agriculture but is now keenly awaiting movement on these promises.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker was in attendance and comments: “After what has felt like years of farming only being talked about in terms of its environmental outcome and its carbon footprint resulting in endless criticism, the bringing together of farmers, farming organisations, processors, retailers and the hospitality sector to hear that the Government is firmly on the side of the food producers was a definite step in the right direction.
“Recent Government focus on farming has been almost entirely on the environment but it must not and does not need to be an either/or. We have to deliver food and deliver for the environment in combination. It is often ignored that much of the UK’s wildlife is farming and livestock dependant anyway.”
Amongst the day’s commitments was a firm promise that future trade deals will protect agriculture’s sensitive sectors, however, NSA questioned the timing of this statement when significant deals with New Zealand and Australia that could negatively impact the UK sheep sector, also recently been criticised by former Defra Secretary George Eustice, have already been agreed.
Concerning trade, the summit placed focus on the export of goods to support food producers but Mr Stocker believes this was a missed opportunity to consider the importance of the domestic market as well.
He said, “Britain is one of the most valued food markets in the world and I don’t think we should be taking our eye off the ball of the value of that market to us – real food security will come from a sound domestic supply chain, even though exports are desirable and generate competition, and for the sheep producer give efficient carcase utilisation. It is clear too Government sees food exports as contributing to its wider economic ambitions and trade agenda – so wider ambitions for exports, trade and economic growth will provide a framework for the future of British food.”
With recent moves to depopulate much of the UK’s grazed landscape to be replaced with trees for carbon capture, Mr Stocker highlighted the forgotten benefits livestock farming brings to these areas. “I managed to make the case that for much of our grassland to be looked at as less suitable for food production and more suited to trees and carbon (as it was in the Henry Dimbleby National Food Plan) misses the multi functionality of what farmers do. This has already distorted land prices and with widespread afforestation, we will see the breakdown of some fragile rural farming communities. The role of farming, for food production and the environment, in these areas should not be underestimated.”
After four hours of discussion, those attending the summit were left content that the opportunity to talk about productivity and sustainability, resilience and transparency in trade, innovation, and skills had raised key points to the audience including the Prime Minister and numerous senior Ministers and Civil Servants.
Mr Stocker concludes: “You can only discuss so much and therefore the chance to dwell on the detail of topics was unfortunately not possible, but the meeting was a great start and a very welcome initiative.
“The proof of the pudding of course will be in the implementation of a lot of this on the ground. It cannot end with one meeting, we have to keep the momentum up and see food recognised as of equal importance to climate change, nature, and natural resources, after all, it is an essential of life without which we will not survive for long.”