Defra's new fruit and vegetables task force aims to boost production and consumption of UK edible crops

Defra has launched a fruit and vegetables task force.

Growers, retailers, consumers and agricultural researchers will develop a plan to increase the production and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK by looking at supply chain relationships, collaboration and co-operation in the industry; skills and labour; research and development; input to the development of a fruit and vegetables strategy; and collaboration with the Department of Health to help promote the 5 A Day message as well as fruit and vegetables in schools.

The taskforce will be chaired by Hilary Benn, and its members are:

  • Sarah Pettitt, NFU
  • Phil Hudson, NFU
  • David Piccaver, JEPCO Ltd
  • Richard Reed, Innocent
  • Nigel Jenney, Fresh Produce Consortium
  • Krys Zasada, National Association of British Market Authorities
  • Christine Forder, Compass
  • Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium
  • Peter Hall, Peter Hall and Sons Ltd (Organic Foods)
  • Alex Dower, UK Produce Director
  • Judy Hardagon, School Food Trust
  • Marion Regan, Hugh Lowe Farm
  • Professor Gareth Edwards-Jones, University of Bangor
  • Ian Crute, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
  • Sean Richard, Cranfield School of Management
  • Rosemary Hignett, Food Standards Agency
  • Mike Tiddy, Office of Government Commerce
  • Geoff Dessent, Department of Health
  • Joe Swift, garden designer, TV presenter and writer

Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn said that the new group needed to look at ways to get people growing and eating their own fruit and vegetables, as well as ways to support England's commercial growers — and to get people choosing local fruit and veg, particularly when it's in season.

The group will focus on young people and low-income families.

Benn added that he wants English growers to have the opportunity to produce as much as they could to meet consumer demand.

In 2008, domestic production of fruit and vegetables was 37% of demand. The UK produces 11% of the fresh fruit eaten here, which Defra says is up over the past five years, and 58% of fresh vegetables, down from 63% five years ago.

Compared to five years ago, more of the apples we eat are grown in the UK, and nearly 13% more strawberries eaten in Britain are grown here. But the proportion of pears and plums eaten that were grown here have declined.

Most cabbages and carrots eaten in the UK are also grown here, but UK production of tomatoes has declined over the past decade, meaning a greater proportion of the tomatoes are imported.

Current barriers to production include developing clear career paths to attract young people to the industry, the availability of seasonal workers, volatile energy costs and the effects of climate change including the availability and cost of water. 

Benn said: "If we grow and eat more fruit and vegetables here — in our greenhouses, in our orchards, in our fields, our allotments and in our own back gardens — it will be good for our health, our farming community and our landscape.

"There is a gap at the moment, between what we consume and what we grow here, but there's no reason why we can't grow more here. And the main thing we can do to encourage this is to choose, and eat, British produce.  

"We need make sure our farmers can compete successfully with imports, are resilient to the effects of climate change and that we're getting fresh talent into the industry so that we can continue to grow world-class fruit and veg."

Secretary of state for health Andy Burnham said: "Getting Britain growing more fruit and veg isn't just good news for our farmers — eating it is the tastiest way for the rest of us to maintain a healthy lifestyle too.

"We know the demand is there — the latest Health Survey for England results showed an increase in the number of people eating fruit and veg and our 5 A Day campaign is supporting families to get even more fruit and veg in their diets."


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