‘Concerning long-term decline’: UK farmers warn on food shortages post-Brexit

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

NFU calls on UK Government to support domestic food production ©iStock/Droits d'auteur Leonid Eremeychuk
NFU calls on UK Government to support domestic food production ©iStock/Droits d'auteur Leonid Eremeychuk
The UK would run out of food today (7 August) if the nation was unable to import any food products from the start of the year, the National Farmers Union warned as it called for the Government to back British food production.

Revealing that the latest figures on the UK’s self-sufficiency in food have stagnated, NFU President Minette Batters urged Government to put the nation’s food security at the top of the political agenda.

Figures from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for 2017 show that Britain produced 60% of its own food in 2017. This rate is in long-term decline, the NFU stressed. With the UK’s exit from the EU – where around 30% of food imports currently originate – just eight months away and negotiations over the divorce agreement and future trading relationship making slow progress, Batters suggested that a new focus has been placed on British farming.

Defra data for 2016 shows that the UK imports more food than it exports in every category except beverages. 

defra importexport

“The statistics show a concerning long-term decline in the UK’s self-sufficiency in food,”​ Batters said.

She also stressed that food production levels in the country have come under pressure from adverse weather conditions. “British food production has been pulled into sharp focus in recent weeks with farmers across the country wrangling with the impacts of unprecedented dry and hot weather.

“We strongly believe that every British citizen should be entitled to a safe, traceable and high quality supply of British food that is produced to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world. Home-grown food production must have the unwavering support of Government if we are to achieve this post-Brexit.”

Reversing downward trends

Batters suggested that there is a “lot of potential”​ to reverse downward trends in food self-sufficiency. “While we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates, if we maximise on the food that we can produce well in the UK then that will deliver a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits to the country,”​ she argued.

Quick facts

  • British farms produce 61% of the nation’s food.
  • Food and farming provides 3.8 million jobs.
  • Farmland covers 70% of the nation.

Batters issued a stark warning on the potential negative impact of a “bad Brexit”​ for UK farmers. She said that the UK agricultural sector is most concerned about three issues in the Brexit negotiations: access to workers, free trade and how the UK will replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

“The UK farming sector has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit – a free and frictionless free trade deal with the EU and access to a reliable and competent workforce for farm businesses is critical to the future of the sector. And as we replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, we must keep a sharp focus on what productive, progressive and profitable farm businesses need from a domestic agricultural policy.”

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