Can the UK ever be Food Self-Sufficient?

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December 10, 2018

Although the Prime Minister Theresa May pulled through a no-confidence vote on her leadership that has bought her more time, to try to sell her unpopular Brexit deal to a deeply divided parliament yesterday. The United Kingdom is still standing at a landmark crossroad when it comes to agriculture and a Brexit deal over the economy, farmers all over the country are optimistic about the abolishment of EU’s common agricultural policy.

According to official figures, Britain is dependent heavily on food import to feed its population. If some industry experts and publications are to be believed, the food security dream is perishing with time. The Guardian has even reported that NFU- National Farmers Union believe that Britain could run out of food by August 2019, if the country isn’t able to pull some import agreement in a post-Brexit scenario.

Minnette Batters, President – NFU says that unprecedented hot weather combined with a threat of no food import deals can make self-sufficiency a dreamy scenario. The government is planning to stockpile food as a contingency plan if the chances of an agricultural deal seem bleak at any point.

The Current Food Import Scenario

The United Kingdom produces 60% of its total food requirement at present according to official figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). But, comparing it with the historical scenario, the future doesn’t look much promising. 30 years ago, the country was catering to 74% of its food requirement, internally.

Though the self-sufficiency figures are lopsided towards a positive balance, still, one cannot deny that the UK relies on other countries to meet its food requirements. If statistics are to be believed, then:

79% of total food imports in the UK come from the European Union

11% food imports are from MFN countries including the USA, China, Brazil & Australia

9% food imports are honored through bilateral trade agreements with Canada, Norway & Chile

1% imports are from countries under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences like Ukraine, India & Iran

A no deal Brexit would mean, European supplies will reduce drastically, without a favorable food import agreement with countries in the EU. While farming associations continue to say that Britain can increase food output to become self-sufficient, making it possible in the short term is not possible, easily. But, in the long run, the UK may be able to achieve self-sufficiency in terms of food, if experts are to be believed.

The Ambitious Food Sufficiency Plan

Professor Tim Lang who teaches Food Policy at the University of London says that food sufficiency in Britain is not impossible but a great deal of effort would have to be made from the consumer side. Everyone would have to keep a watch on what one eats, Britain would have to cut down on eating meat and more investment must be infused in primary food production.

He is suggesting for new ways to produce crops and rebuilding the horticulture industry. Agritech can pave way for this overturn by infusing innovative food production techniques with traditional practices.

According to Hodmedod’s a Norfolk-based pulse and grain supplier, “A growing city in the UK can feed itself with a six-mile hinterland.” But the supplier reinstates that significant dietary changes would be required for the plan to succeed.

Therefore, although food sufficiency is not impossible the UK  it will be able to achieve only if it channelizes focused investments in the field of agriculture. Profitable and productive farming practices must be incorporated into the British agriculture landscape that was not possible because of EU’s Common Agriculture Policy. A new farming policy that is specific to the needs of the nation will help in making self-sufficiency a reality in the long term for sure.

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