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Food Security (Climate Change)

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

DEFRA’S 2006 assessment of food security highlighted climate change as one of the many factors that may affect the UK’s food supply. What matters to the safeguarding of our food supply is a strong farming industry, energy security, access to food from a variety of sources, a strong food chain and infrastructure, and having the capacity and contingency planning to deal with specific risks.

My right hon. Friend makes at least part of the point that, historically, the UK has often simply equated food security with market mechanisms. We know, however, that those market mechanisms are under pressure, partly because of the growth in demand from countries such as India and China and the growth in demand for biofuels. Climate change could, of course, destroy the whole supply chain. In that context, is my right hon. Friend confident that we have the forward planning to provide sufficient agricultural land and the necessary diverse and adaptable skills in the agricultural population to ensure that we can guarantee food security in the future?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point about the impact of the changing climate on the farming industry. First, on our capacity as a world to feed ourselves, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that world food production is still rising more quickly than the global population. There will, however, be between 9 billion and 9.5 billion of us on this planet by 2050, compared with 6.2 billion now.

Secondly, although the UK’s self-sufficiency has declined a bit in recent years, it is still higher than it was in the 1930s, before the second world war, and higher than it was after the second world war.

Thirdly, a change in climate might mean that some crops that are currently grown will be more difficult to grow, but it could also open up new possibilities. One of the practical steps that we are taking is to fund research at the Agriculture Development Advisory Service and at Warwick into the potential impact of more extreme weather events on the farming community. The truth is that this is an issue for all of us to think about. We need to try to anticipate what might be coming, so that the farming industry will be able to respond.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the UK livestock industry makes a huge contribution to not only the quality but the security of the food supply in this country? It is also true that cattle are a major generator of methane gas. Is it not important, however, to keep this matter in balance, and to say to anyone who criticises the farming industry that the value of the livestock industry far outweighs any contribution that it might make to climate change?

I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that I agree with him, with one proviso. The livestock industry does all the things that he has described, as well as contributing to our landscape, as has been said. We are strong supporters of the industry and we want it to thrive. Like all parts of the economy, however, it is going to have to make a contribution to the fight against climate change. I am glad to be able to say that emissions of methane have declined, largely as a result of reducing livestock numbers, but that will remain an issue because all parts of the economy, including farming, are going to have to make a contribution. That is why I welcome the work that the Farming Futures Project is doing, and the response of the National Farmers Union and others in acknowledging that climate change is an issue for farming, just as it is for the rest of us.