Huw speaks at Food Security Debate

Huw Irranca-Davies MP speaks at the Westminster Hall Debate on Food Security.

Watch the speech here[Starts speaking at 14:09]

Find the Hansard transcript here.

Efra Select Committee Food Security Report, 27th Nov 2014

Let me begin by commending the Efra Select Committee for their timely focus on Food Security, and for prompting this debate. As usual, there is a feast of recommendations and information, and too much to digest in my short contribution.

It is unarguable that food security is an imperative globally, and for individual nations. As such, it is worth reminding ourselves that Food Security was defined by the World Food Summit of 1996 as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”, redefined subsequently by the UN Food and Agriculture Committee to include “dietary needs and f

huw efra food security debate

That definition remains sound. But the context has changed. Not least in the scale and urgency of the challenges, summed up so well by Professor John Beddington back in 2009 when he described at a sustainable development conference the “perfect storm” which was coming. He said:

“Our food reserves are at a 50 year low, but by 2030 we need to be producing 50% more food. At the same time, we will need 50% more energy, and 30% more fresh water.”

This was reinforced by the Foresight Report “The Future of Food and Farming”, led by Professor Beddington, which Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds drew upon when he told the Select Committee in evidence “Wars are likely to happen” in the competition for land and water and scarce resources.

The “Enough Food for Everyone” IF Campaign which ended earlier this year brought together over 200 organisations campaigning on ending global hunger. They focussed not simply on the issues of efficient production and distribution of food but on aid, on land, on tax and transparency. Food security is complex, and international, but very personal for the 3 million children who die of malnutrition each year or the billion who go to bed hungry.

And here at home, in the UK, we have seen the hugely accelerated growth in food banks and other types of food aid.

I want to state two simple facts here, which are both unarguable. Fact One: there has long been volunteer-led informal food aid in this country, in the shape of distribution of emergency food, kitchens, and so on. The leading foodbank organisation the Trussell Trust was providing just over 40,000 allocations of 3-day emergency food packages in 2009/2010. That’s a fact. Fact Two: Last year the Trussell Trust provided over 913,00 3-day emergency food allocations, which is a 22-fold increase. That’s a fact too.

Last February, a much-delayed report commissioned by Defra itself into the growth in food aid in the UK, found that food aid providers ascribed the food insecurity to problems which had led to sudden reduction in household income such as job losses, problems associated with social security payments, and on-going, underpinning circumstances such as continual low household income and indebtedness which can no longer support purchase of sufficient food to meet household needs. These has been re-inforced by many other analyses of this growing poverty and cost-of-living crisis.

So, as we debate this useful Efra Select Committee Report, it is worth reminding ourselves of two important points which arise from food insecurity at home and overseas: that the causes of food insecurity are many and complex, and so are the solutions, involving wider social and economic solutions as well as food production, storage and distribution; secondly, that food insecurity is not an abstract construct but also a deeply personal matter that can devastate lives, families, communities, and even nations. It is in our gift as policy-makers to fashion adequate responses, and on that note, let me now turn to the report and the government response.

We note that the committee and the government draws on much that was achieved and initiated under the last Labour government:

  1. the comprehensive food security analysis in 2009, which bolstered ground-breaking work such as the Foresight Report on Land Use, Food Matters, and which were drawn together in the landmark Food 2030 strategy. That strategy was being worked up into detailed action plans when we left government. It was the most ambitious, comprehensive approach to food strategy – including food security domestically and globally – but also including diet and nutrition, climate change and carbon-reduction, land-use conflict and resolution, and so much more.

  2. Encouraging people to eat a healthy, sustainable diet

  3. Ensuring a resilient, profitable and competitive food system

  4. Increasing food production sustainably

  5. Reducing the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions

  6. Reducing, re-using and reprocessing waste

  7. Increasing the impact of skills, knowledge, research and technology

So the question is still being asked by industry, NGOs and others, why did the government scrap this joined-up strategy and retreat into government by silos, with Defra doing its thing on food production, health doing its thing, FCO and foreign office doing their things. What happened to the cross-government and cross-sectoral working.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been some welcome developments.

  1. The Green Food Project was well-intentioned, but too narrow and under-resourced, and eventually ran into the sand.

  2. The Foresight Future of Farming Report adds usefully to previous Foresight Reports, including the Future of Land Use report under Labour

  3. The Grocery-Code Adjudicator is one step forward on ensuring fair-play in parts of the supply-chain, and had cross-party support, though of course the government resisted attempts by Labour and others to strengthen the bill with financial penalties until backed against the wall and facing defeat in committee

  4. The Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce Action Plan which aims to increase the production and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables in the UK is commendable, recognising the huge potential of this for economic and health and well-being benefits, and building as it does upon the work of the last Labour government in establishing the Fruit and Vegetable Taskforce.

  5. The agri-tech strategy is welcome, as it applies that collaborative approach to innovation and R&D across industry, academia, NGOs and government which was pioneered by Labour in programmes such as the Marine Science Strategy. It needs to ensure that productivity gains and genuine environmental sustainability are simultaneously achieved, and that there is full buy-in from UK and global partners, but it is the right approach.

So we are glad to see this government taking forward and building upon some of the pioneering achievements of the previous Labour government, to help build food security, and to introduce some logical additional programmes to help deliver some of the wider benefits of a sustainable and resilient food sector. But this piecemeal and disjointed approach is not substitute for a coherent cross-government cross-sectoral plan of action.

So let me ask the Minister some questions which arise directly from this first of two Efra Select Committee Reports, and to which the Government Response is still unclear:

  1. Does the Minister believe that the increased costs – including environmental costs – and demand for meat protein mean that we will be consuming less but higher quality meat in the future?

  2. Does the Minister believe that UK farming is increasingly vulnerable to the rising costs of animal feed, and what is he doing to bring forward alternatives?

  3. What measures can the Minister take to extend access of food producers – including small farmers – to the highest quality of meteorological prediction as part of our climate change adaptation programme?

  4. Does the Minister agree that horticulture has the greatest potential to improve diets, boost food production sustainably, and create employment and if so what more can the government do to accelerate growth in the sector?

  5. What specific measures does the Minister have to promote social enterprises in horticultural growing and food distribution, local food networks, and greater links between people and communites and the food we eat and grow?

  6. What measureable progress has been made on increasing the production and consumption of fruit and vegetables since 2010, and the establishment of the taskforce under Labour?

  7. In light of the decision by EU Environment Ministers to enable Member State decision-making on GM within an EU framework, when does he think the first commercial applications for GM cultivation in the UK will take place and for what products?

  8. Why, if the government agrees that Pillar 2 is the better use of CAP money than pillar one, did it retreat from this position and not ensure 15% modulation?

  9. Why, if the government sees direct payments to farmers under Pillar One as “an ineffective use of public money and a distortion of the market”, did the government see fit to make no additional demands – by way of innovation or farm-entry, or public or environmental benefits – on those largest recipients of direct payments in excess of £150,000/year or even £300,000 per year?

  10. Over the last couple of years the government has appeared – in statements from the top – to be a little gung-ho in its advocacy for GM. How will the Minister take forward a balanced argument to the public, based on science and evidence, robust safety controls and labelling?

In conclusion I want to thank all the members of the Committee for raising questions as well as positing answers, and we look forward to the 2nd part of their report when we can examine the issues in further detail, just as we now look forward to the minister’s response.