NFU slams report as 'incomplete'

NFU president Peter Kendall has criticised the Food Matters report - which was commissioned by the prime minister and sets out ways to tackle the UK's food issues - as a "missed opportunity" to create an all-embracing food and farming strategy for the 21st century.

Rather than focusing on the UK alone, the report identifies the UK's food issues - such as the need for fair prices, food security and mitigating climate change - and puts them in a global context.

Prime minister Gordon Brown said in a statement: "Recent food price increases are a powerful reminder that access to ever more affordable food cannot be taken for granted, and it is the family finances of the poorest in our society that are hit hardest when food prices rise. But the principal food security challenge for the UK is a global one. We cannot deal with higher food prices in the UK in isolation from higher prices around the world. Attempting to pursue national food security in isolation from the global context is unlikely to be practicable, sustainable or financially rational.

"So to tackle higher prices both here in Britain and in developing countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family's spending, we will continue to play a leading role in combating instability in commodity markets and building a more resilient global food chain, as well as maintaining a supportive environment for competitive UK food producers."

But the NFU's initial assessment of the report highlights its failure to identify the whole range of issues affecting UK food and farming and the potential conflicts between different policy objectives. Moreover, on those occasions when the conflicts are recognised, it said the document falls short of putting forward a consistent approach or specific actions to address them.

Kendall said: "The analysis is incomplete on a number of fronts. It ignores the full impact of regulation on the competitiveness of the agriculture sector and, in general, fails to recognise the importance of productive farming and the role that it can play in addressing food security and price stability.

"Food security cannot be uniquely tackled at the national level, but that should not preclude British farming from playing a crucial part in addressing this global issue."

On a more positive note, Kendall welcomed the Government's recognition of a number of issues requiring further analysis and action, such as the development of a "five a day" action plan.

Following the publication of Food Matters, Defra will soon publish a paper - Ensuring the UK's Food Security in a Globalised World - setting out the key factors that affect food supply and pricing.

The Government's chief scientific adviser Professor John Beddington will also commission a new Foresight project on future global food production and farming, and the implications for the UK.

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