EFRA launches inquiry into future food security

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenge of securing UK food supplies for the next 40 years.

The EFRA Committee is to investigate how well-equipped the UK is to play its part in the global challenge of doubling food production to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion in 2050.

"While the UK's population will not increase on the same scale as some other countries, the UK is part of a global food system and population growth elsewhere in the world will inevitably affect our ability to secure our own food supplies," said the Committee.

The Committee will conduct its inquiry in two parts: the first will concentrate on establishing the challenges the UK faces in responding to the call to increase food production; and the second on what actions should be taken by the government, the food industry, farmers, growers and fishermen to meet those challenges.

The inquiry comes after Environment Secretary Hilary Benn's speech to influential think-tank the Fabian Society, where he predicted that the 21st Century will be "defined by the search for food and water" and urged world governments to form a Kyoto-style agreement on food security.

National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall has welcomed the "timely inquiry", adding that, "Productive agriculture must share the stage with the environment if the UK is to secure food production."

"We have seen numerous reports into the challenges we face in feeding a growing population, while mitigating our impact on the environment", he said.

"But the time has come for government to look at the role British agriculture has to play in responding to domestic and world food needs, an aspect that has been hitherto largely overlooked."

Kendall warned that "abuse of power by major grocery retailers", continued under-investment in agri-science research, diminishing labour availability and a growing skills gap could limit the agricultural sector's ability to boost production.

"I would echo calls I made more than a year ago for an 'early warning system' to monitor changes in agricultural production and undertake systematic investigation when production falls in a given sector," he said.

Food security became a top priority in global politics after food prices rose dramatically in 2007, triggering social unrest and even rioting in countries across the world.

The UK Government has already published two reports on food security - a Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report, 'Food Matters', and a Defra discussion paper on 'Ensuring the UK's Food Security in a Changing World'.