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South West

We need to understand the real cost of food security

11 Apr 2018
IoD South West bad weather

For many of the us, the recent bad weather was little more than an inconvenience, with the biggest concern a lack of bread, milk and fresh produce and having to abandon the car for a couple of days.

However, for some, it had far more serous consequences and threw into stark relief once again how reliant we are on our existing infrastructure to keep the wheels on everyday life. Some people suffered terribly: farmers in the region struggled to keep livestock alive while others were forced to dump milk  because tankers couldn't get access.

When a significant proportion of children in this country live below the poverty line, it is shameful to have to waste food like that. Tourism and he hospitality sector, on which much of the region depends, took a financial hit. Public events such as football matches were cancelled. Technology is often no match when nature decides to take over. As someone said to me, we can put someone on the moon but we can't get a milk delivery to the supermarket in a snow storm.

We need to focus on being more self reliant.   In wartime, for instance, domestic food security came into its own.    The rationale was that we couldn’t rely on imports or being able to move it safely around the country.  So we had to be able to grow it or produce it very locally.  That ability to feed ourself, which has stagnated over the past 15 years  needs to move back up the agenda.  Supporting and investing in our local manufacturers and producers is critical  – especially if we leave the European Union and the cost of importing and exporting rises significantly.   We have world class standards for food production in terms of both traceability and animal welfare.  Yet  a recent study by the National Farmers Union predicted that the British larder would run dry by the second week of August if the nation was fed by British food only.

Today we rely on ‘ just in time' deliveries hauled around the country on the road system from mega distribution hubs. Yes, it keeps prices down and choice up as we can buy anything from anywhere all year round.  Until the truck can't deliver.   And the local bakery that can bake its bread on site comes into its own. We start to rely on seasonal vegetables from the local wholesaler that are as good if not better than avocados from Peru.
We need to understand the real cost of food security – and availability to everyone – and consider agricultural policy and funding holistically.

The introduction of a post Brexit farm policy is the opportunity to reverse our reliance on imports and capitalise on what the UK - and the SW is good at. We need to be better at standing on our own two feet when the conditions become slippery underfoot.

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