To call attention to the future contribution of British agriculture to global food security; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as set out in the Register.
It is a year since the formation of the coalition Government and I welcome the fact that the new Government have welcomed the importance of farming and placed food security high on the agenda. We have seen: the establishment of the regulation task force, which is due to report next week; the setting up of the new animal health and welfare board; a reduction in the number of quangos; and a welcome £26 million of new money for research at Norwich research park after years of research programme cuts. In the pipeline are the natural environment White Paper, the grocery market ombudsman, disease controls relating in particular to bovine TB, decisions on the use of GM technology, and, finally, CAP reform beyond 2013.
All of these issues affect the way in which we produce food and the level of security that we achieve. The RASE report, Working for the Future of Agriculture, offers this definition:
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active, healthy life”.
The report states that food production will have to increase by 40 per cent by 2030 to meet world demand.
Raising world food output is a mammoth task. Even as world population expands, agricultural productivity in some areas is falling. David Richardson, writing last month in Farmers Weekly, quoted some frightening figures. In 1985, there were some 74 million ewes in New Zealand; today, there are 30 million. In Australia, the number of ewes has fallen from 200 million to 70 million. In the UK, in 1990 there were 21 million ewes; today there are fewer than 15 million, and the number of sows has fallen from 700,000 to fewer than 400,000. Over that period, annual net migration into the UK has been between 200,000 and 400,000, and our self-sufficiency in food has fallen. In part this reflects the growth in world trade that has enabled UK citizens to eat a wider range of food and consume some foods out of season. It also reflects the paltry rewards received by many farmers.
In a Written Answer in March, my honourable friend Jim Paice stated that the farm business survey calculated that the average farm business income from grazing livestock in 2009-10 was £22,000, which is below average earnings. The figure is an average; many farmers’ incomes are lower than that. The fall is partly due to the higher input costs and lower prices for finished cattle. Pig prices are dire: farmers are currently losing £16 to £18 per pig. This reflects the volatility and uncertainty that producers face when formulating their business plans.
Thankfully, many people are now aware of the threat to food security worldwide, and a number of committees and research groups are turning their attention to finding solutions to these problems. In January this year, the Foresight report into the future of food and farming was published. It bids fair to be to this decade what the Curry report was to the last. The report drew on the expertise of several hundred specialists across the world and received more than 100 evidence papers. It identifies the main future pressures as: the growing population; more demand for a variety of high-quality foods; greater competition for land and, in particular, for water and energy; the emerging effects of climate change; and new economic and political pressures.
The CAP after 2013 will be a crucial influence on the progress of European agriculture. The Commons Select Committee described the CAP’s role as the achievement of sustainable intensification of agriculture without causing irrevocable damage to the environment, and stressed the need for this to be done without disadvantaging UK farmers. I believe that the promised alteration to the CAP will be successful only if it does not disincentivise the production of any staple commodity. The world needs large quantities of high-quality nutritional food. However, it cannot be right to cap those who achieve higher production levels, just as it cannot be right to award subsidies for growing items such as tobacco.
Most taxpayers seem to be in favour of the ending of subsidies, but that will be viable only when primary producers receive a fair reward for their efforts. The CLA briefing makes the point that, over the past two years, Governments have made positive statements that must be achieved, but it queries where the action is. The CLA considers the CAP to be a major policy for the protection of managing Europe’s natural resources. This implies not only a cohesive structure but also the dedication of considerable funds—certainly not less than now.
The NFU in its latest paper, The Recovery: Why Farming Matters, states that the industry must be able to respond to domestic demand and contribute to global food supply. I heartily endorse those sentiments and ask the Minister how the Government will ensure that we make common cause with agriculture in the devolved Administrations. The interdependence of the agri-food sector as a whole should not be undervalued. An efficient viable farming base is critical for UK food processors to ensure their long-term access to raw materials.
We must farm in an environmentally sensitive way. Water, as I said, is key to food production, and we know that less will be available in the future. This is particularly true of countries in the southern hemisphere, where water and food shortages have caused riots recently. Dr Bruce Lankford from the University of East Anglia has produced a paper which expresses his concerns and explains his concept of virtual water. He claims that the UK received some 65 billion litres of water from other parts of the world embedded in imported goods. That comes in the main from areas which have less water than we have and which are likely to have less in the future. Every day each of us uses more of this virtual water than we consume for drinks, food preparation and hygiene. Can that situation continue? Surely, it is not sustainable when we know that the ground-water supplies are dangerously low. How much longer can we rely on access and global trading to meet our needs?
The whole question of food security is endlessly challenging. The traditional farming questions include what to plant, when to plant it, how to grow it, how to harvest it, how to conserve the soil, how to ensure sufficient water supply and how to maximise output. Farmers have no control over the weather. March and April have been the driest for years. Planting and harvesting are planned but often disrupted. Add to that the conundrums which include the use of energy and water for processing, transport, extension of shelf life and the reduction and disposal of waste, and one realises that food production is indeed a complex task.
I am glad that initiatives are being taken. The TSB sustainable agriculture and food innovation platform is funded to the tune of some £18 million per annum—50 per cent from BIS, 30 per cent from Defra, 10 per cent from BBSRC and the remainder by Scotland and AHDB. Its first programme was on new approaches to crop protection and its second will be on protein production and utilisation, including aquaculture.
The farming industry is also contributing to looking at new methods. In April this year, the English pig industry launched its road map, Towards Better Performance, which testifies its commitment to reducing the pigs’ carbon footprint and detailing targets it has set for itself. Earlier this week, I was at the launch of the dairy forum’s road map, which reflects the commitment of the whole dairy sector to minimising environmental impact throughout the chain. It sets targets for dairy farmers, processors and retailers, and shows how reducing the carbon footprint has already made economic sense.
Many other projects are underway, funded, for example, by the companies which supply seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery. Government departments and agencies fund basic research. There is still some central support for applied research and the process of translating laboratory results into farming practices. In his response, will the Minister outline the Government’s programme for extending field trials and the application of research results into general farming, and will he also update us on the progress being made on the Taylor report?
Knowledge and skills development is essential if we are to meet the challenges of the future. EU Sub-Committee D is currently involved in considering innovations in agriculture. While I cannot predict its recommendations, knowledge transfer from scientific discovery taken through to farm application has been included in much of the evidence taken. Advances in machinery technologies such as GPS systems have resulted in fewer applications of chemicals on to the land, saving farmers money and, more importantly, lessening pollution. That is a win-win situation.
Sharing knowledge is crucial if we are to meet the predicted demand for food. I am glad that universities and colleges worldwide have become involved in this. For example, for the past 10 years Harper Adams University College has been working with a Beijing agricultural college on a joint degree programme that involves two years of study in China and a final year at Harper Adams. The focus is on food production and food quality. In addition, 18 out of the 30 applied research students are from overseas. They are looking at various aspects of agriculture such as poultry production, crop production, the effects of climate change and, what is most important, ways of improving food production both here and worldwide.
One of the important things facing us is the use of genetic modification. It has been around for a long time. The USA has embraced it in principle and parts of the Far East are using it widely. Its rejection in Europe and many parts of Africa can be traced to a number of factors that, quite honestly, I find irritating. Does the use of an antibiotic marker gene really threaten the health and safety of any of our population? How far can seeds travel unassisted? The French put it at 3 kilometres, a considerable distance. However, there are people who take a different view. I believe that we cannot go forward without appreciating and accepting in principle this technology. However, should the growing of GM crops be approved for the UK, which I hope it will, we must have regular scientific reviews. Climate change seems to be worsening and the incidence of animal and plant diseases spreading further afield is rising. Genetic modification, provided that it is carefully controlled, seems to be a logical and preferred way of helping to reduce some of these new challenges.
The “Farming Today” programme broadcast on Monday had an item on renewable energy, but I am afraid that it was not hopeful of success in meeting the stated targets. Once again, I feel that many more targets could be met if only we were able to unlock sufficient funding to take the necessary steps of monitoring and reviewing progress, as well as to chuck out what is not working and speed up that which is. Organisations such as LEAF and many others produce commercial food for us but are also working closely with others to link in with the environment. There is an enormous role for this type of farming enterprise in the future.
Finally, we have just two or three months of extremely cold weather followed by several weeks with very little rain. Watching the frantic efforts of birds to find enough food to eat, I was struck by the similarity between their plight and that of millions of people in other parts of the world. The UK is vibrant and positive. Over the centuries her people have travelled the world, using their skills to enable others to progress and live better lives. The threats facing us now are perhaps the most serious yet, but I believe that if we abandon entrenched attitudes and encourage our most original thinkers to devote their time to solving these problems, we will master them and we will survive. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on securing this important and timely debate. I declare my interest as chairman of Sub-Committee D of the EU Select Committee of your Lordships’ House, which scrutinises, among other things, EU agricultural policy. I am also a farm owner. Allocating resources to a wide range of security issues has always been a challenging priority for government. Should there be more police; should there be more prisons; should there be more soldiers? These are frequently debated, yet probably one of the most critical issues that the world faces at the moment—food security—is rarely debated. That is why today’s debate is so valuable.
The past 50 years or so in agriculture have been a relatively benign period. Technology has increased productivity and more land has been brought into production. Generally, apart from in recent times, that has held down food prices. It has enabled us to feed the rising world population, which in that time has risen from 3 billion to 7 billion. That is quite an achievement. However, looking back over recent times, there are various occasions when the predictions of Malthus may have seemed to have become a reality. I think back to the 19th century and the famine in Ireland, the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s and the Bengal famine in the 1940s.
It is interesting that, in the lifetime of many people in your Lordships’ House, the Second World War showed us what the issue of food security meant. In 1939, 70-odd per cent of food was imported to this country; by 1945 we had got that down to 25 per cent and were still able to give everybody in the country—around 42 million people—2,200 calories a day. Contrast that with today when we import 40 per cent of food and still give everybody 2,200 calories a day. I suppose it might explain something that the decrease in manual labour has been tremendous in that period, so you would have expected the calorific intake to go down. Maybe that partly explains some of the healthcare challenges that we face. Looking forward, there is the challenge by 2050 of feeding a world population that will increase from 7 billion to 9 billion. Even as we seek to increase the yields from agriculture, we need to avoid the adverse environmental effects of some types of farming—hence the need to practise the sustainable intensification of agriculture.
As we look around, there are doubts that Europe and the UK can meet this challenge. In the medium term we are told that, already having suffered 10 years of stagnation in the rise in output, in the next 10 years agriculture output in the EU will rise by only 4 per cent. That will contrast with the United States, where it will rise by between 10 and 15 per cent, and Brazil where it will rise by 40 per cent. Various factors explain these differences. Those countries do not have the constraints of European agriculture, in which there is a great deal of focus on the size of farms and preserving rural communities. On that point, the average size of a farm in the United States is 420 acres. Contrast that with a country such as Hungary, where the average farm size is seven acres and the policy works as follows. If you have a back yard with two or more trees in it and you intend to sell your plums, apples or pears, you are eligible for an EU subsidy. It seems rather a strange policy.
The issue of rural policy, then, is important and will continue to be debated. I sense a shift in this. It is interesting that in the run-up to the French presidential election, Marine Le Pen really challenged the whole basis of France’s membership of the common agricultural policy, possibly challenging the whole compact that has existed between urban and rural citizens.
The key to the future of this must be technology. On the one hand, a country such as Brazil has expanded its output by bringing more land into use, by taking established technologies from Europe and the United States, and by embracing GM cropping. On the other hand, we have to look at the choices around the technology of things such as biotechnology and how we introduce that. The choice that Europe must make is whether it wants to do this. Will it embrace or reject the technology? Under current EU policies, the need for EU-level approval of cultivation of GM crops—which at this time offers the greatest prospect of increased productivity—means that there is an impasse in the adoption of this technology. Rich countries such as Germany may wish to remain GM-free, confident that their economic strength will enable them to sustain a more expensive food policy. This is notwithstanding the fact that 35 per cent of the animal feed imported into Europe is GM and is in the food chain anyway. It is a fact of life that is already here.
Others may choose to accept GM crops but with adequate controls, as the noble Baroness referred to. In my view, this is a position that demands to be considered. We cannot stand back from this technological revolution. It would be rather like a handloom weaver in the 19th century saying, “I just reject all this” and society saying “We support you”. We would thereby have missed the great technological revolution of the 19th century, in which we played a key part and from which we went on to build industries, with prosperity following.
Neither the UK nor the EU is doing enough to build up the intellectual property that is needed to develop and sustain a green agricultural industry. Thirty or 40 years ago, the UK was a world leader in soil technology, plant breeding and, above all, the know-how to transfer the work of the laboratory into the hands of farmers. Yet there is currently no domestically owned manufacturer of heavy farm machinery—for example, tractors—in the UK and the technology of GM has gone largely to the United States and China. When we have spoken to people in the United States, I cannot work out whether they have been amused or bemused by the position of the EU on the adoption of GM foods. They cannot believe why we do not just get on with it.
In order for Britain to help other parts of the world, we need a more dynamic approach to agricultural technology. We can do some of the simpler things to help the developing world such as building better grain storage so that rats do not steal it, but we need technology to help improve the quality of soil and minimise the use of water and chemicals.
On the subject of overseas development, the Prime Minister's announcement to the G8 summit last June that we would commit £1 billion over three years to food security in the developing world was most welcome. It is interesting that the All-Party Group on Agriculture and Food for Development thought that the contribution should be 10 per cent of our total aid budget. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how he feels we might get to that figure one day.
I am a naturally reluctant exponent of state intervention, but in the case both of the UK and EU, I believe that there is a strong case to be made for two things. The first is leading our citizens to make the choice on GM. If we do not, we will not get the right technology to meet the choice being made. If we decide to go GM-free, we will have to go one way; if we decide to embrace GM, we need to go the other. We need to make those decisions, push for these matters to become clear in the EU and then get on with it. We need then to support our R&D. If we look back at most technological developments, certainly in the 20th century when we moved into scientific development, we see that most of that basic research was generally funded by two groups, the state or people who had a monopoly-supply position such as the telephone companies, which had enormous research departments protected from market forces. I should like to hear from the Minister whether he can give us some comfort on continued support for R&D. GM or no GM, we need to step up our R&D so that we can create a green industry around solving the problems and helping to meet food needs worldwide.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for so ably opening this debate. If I was at a farmers’ meeting, I would probably stand up and say, “Hear, hear. I agree with every word”, and then sit down again. However, she might like to hear a few words from an old farmer who has been associated over many years with the struggle and progress in farming and food production.
The growth in the quantity and quality of food produced is very much down to the application and development of technology and science, funded from both private and public sources. I pay tribute to the many research workers who have been involved over the years.
It is 59 years since my father died. If he came back today, he would have a considerable shock and would be surprised at the development and the progress that has been made throughout the whole land in this country over the years. He would recognise, as we all recognise, that the farming sector faces many challenges—from the pressures to scale-up production and the growing demand for affordable food to the impact of disease outbreaks, many of which still occur in this country. One cannot bypass the importance of trying to move towards the eradication of TB, something that I know has to be done correctly to ensure that we are on course to eradicate that scourge, which is causing the country and those in the business of producing cattle great concern at the moment. We also face greater market liberalisation throughout the world.
The industry has been and still is remarkably resilient, adapting to the many policy changes and coping with the complicated rules and regulations. They apply whether a farmer is farming in the uplands or in the more fertile lowlands, on arable land or in the livestock sector, on the hills or the lowlands. As we face the next reform of the common agricultural policy, we surely have to look forward to greater simplification and incentives to improve the balance in policies for all sectors in agriculture. We know and must surely accept that the challenge for the next 50 years is likely to be of even greater magnitude.
The problem at the moment is that agriculture has never been more out of balance from one sector to another. I heard the other day that the average price of lambs at Lancaster market was £150 per head. It is not many years since they were £20 per head. There is a reason for that; the demand in other countries where a lot of our products are already going. That has happened on one side. The cost of input affects all of us, not just those involved in agriculture. The problem is the input against product price and the volatility that is linked to oil and energy. Some of our energy needs could be met from renewables in this country. We are way behind countries such as Germany in using renewables such as the waste products on farms, which are going to infill sites instead of into anaerobic digesters. Planners should wake up to the importance of getting through legislation and allowing this to happen in order to make better use of those products for energy.
Looking at costs, a local farmer told me only the other day that the cost of putting oil into his combine harvester last year for a day's work was in the region of £500 a day. He recognises as he starts the next harvest that it will be more than £700 a day for the same product, for use in the same job that it did last year. As my noble friend Lady Byford said, the weather in April has meant increased costs. I am told that wheat had to be irrigated on many farms, which farmers do not normally do at that time of year, and it cost something like £100 an acre.
In all this, our natural resources—our soil, water and biodiversity—must be safeguarded. That is the priority as we see it. To meet those global needs, farmers everywhere need to respond, and indeed they will. The young farmers who are entering the market, contrary to some opinion, are so enthusiastic. If you had been at the young farmers’ conference in Blackpool last week—I was not but I know all about it—you would have seen those young farmers keen as mustard to get on. I was, when I was a young farmer. Of course, we see the difficulties as time passes, but it is wonderful that those young farmers are there and that the colleges are bulging at the seams at the moment with young people who really want to get into the business. However, much of the market share in the global economy will of course come from elsewhere—India, China and developing countries, where there is tremendous potential. In the interests of our economy, British agriculture has to play a very important part.
It is right to question why agriculture is unique in benefiting from an integrated European policy in the form of the common agricultural policy. Without that common policy, member states would determine a policy that could distort the single market. The CAP helps to address the failure of markets to deliver fair returns; and, contrary to a lot of public opinion, without a single market there would be massive adverse consequences for consumer benefit. Farmers share the aspiration of reducing the reliance on public support. They will all say that at the moment, but at the same time they want a fair deal and a fair marketplace. To achieve that, we need a strategy that ensures that there is a process around the world. Our higher production and welfare standards are not always matched by our competitors, which often means that imports have a price advantage, so the objectives of the CAP are still valid: increased productivity, a fair standard of living, stabilised markets and the availability of supplies at reasonable prices.
As my noble friend said, to face the future after 2013 we have to maintain that production capacity and increase it. I am so pleased that both she and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to the importance of developments in genetic modification, which is obviously there on the doorstep; we are consuming vast quantities of genetically modified products at the moment but are ignorant of the fact that they are coming in and are not allowed to compete on an equitable basis. There is also a greater role for food security—with fewer food miles, hopefully—so that we can produce more on the doorstep and prepare for the effects of climate change, which can, ultimately, as we learn more about it, be to our advantage; provide a buffer against the threat of market volatility, which undermines investment; and improve environmental performance, which is very much an overriding factor.
Successive reforms of the common agricultural policy since 1992 have sought to reduce the interference of the European Union in managing the market. The two pillars of European support should of course continue: to embrace the economic components of the CAP and to cater for different environmental needs in the different states. I believe there should be a third pillar that focuses on applied science and investment in a knowledge-based economy and deals with targets for research, development, training and education. What we are after is key consumer satisfaction.
The Minister will be aware of the Defra survey, which said that two-thirds of consumers regard British food products as important, that three-quarters look to buy British fruit and vegetables, and that half say seasonal food tastes better. I did not think I would live to hear the day when one-third of those same consumers support and like British farmers. It does not, I hope, mean that two-thirds of them do not. I am optimistic that farmers will accept the challenge and satisfy consumers and still remain competitive in the export market. We can play a big part in the economy, with more than £7 billion of gross value added supporting 500,000 jobs. In the interests of meeting those growing demands for supplying the food chain for distribution, I look forward to less form filling and the introduction of a grocery code adjudicator—an essential role in the food chain. Freedom to farm and care for the countryside in a friendly environment is all that we seek.
My Lords, I remind noble Lords of my own and my husband’s interests with our farm and of my role as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agro-Ecology. I congratulate very warmly the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, not only on securing the debate but on framing the question as she has. She framed it in a very accurate way, and it is particularly well framed because it raises the right issues. It does not suggest that we as a nation or even Europe can have food security without it being global security. We are not suggesting pulling up the drawbridge and just being quite satisfactory on our own. This is an incredibly timely debate, too, with food prices soaring; even though we have seen a slight drop this week, the overall trend in staple foods has been upwards at a rate that quite outstrips earnings here in the UK, in Europe and certainly throughout the world.
When the Minister was kind enough recently to reply to my Written Question about the increase over the past five years in staple prices and the factors that he saw as the reasons for that, his reply reflected the complexities—but the underlying trend was due to the unpredictable climate happenings. So the urgency with which we must address the effect of climate change on food production is there for all to see in the prices. The link between oil and food prices shows graphically why we must break the massive dependence of food production on fossil fuels. So there are immense challenges.
The reason why I struggled slightly with the question before us today is that our British agriculture has a long and proud tradition of improvement and innovation and many examples of excellence—and I am sure that we will hear about many more of them in the debate today. There is the quality of stock-breeding programmes, welfare and the excellence of all sorts of individual practice as well as research and knowledge. But no Government since the Second World War have really had a comprehensive food policy, so all that excellence in agriculture is not reflected in our diet. We recognise that we can produce the food in quantity and certainly in high quality and we can store it well. The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, mentioned the amount that is lost globally. The inadequate storage issue means that globally we are losing upwards of 40 per cent of food produced, and probably much more than that, which means that adequate storage could answer a lot of the need for increased production to feed an increasing world population.
The overall effect of our agriculture is not reflected in the effect on consumers in the country today. There are more and more obese people—about 13 million now—eating the wrong sort of food in the wrong sort of quantities, and at the same time there are malnourished people. Also more and more food is wasted. A significant proportion of food waste, about 6.5 million tonnes, is produced by domestic households, and retailers are generating a further 1.5 million tonnes. Supermarkets have been criticised in particular for wasting damaged or unsold items, which the industry calls “surplus food” although it often remains edible. Most of the 7 million tonnes have been not only produced but transported, then probably wrapped, sold and transported again only to be thrown away. That is an expensive way to make compost or biofuel. While turning waste food into compost or biofuel is certainly better than throwing it into landfill, the aim must be to drastically reduce that waste mountain. In mentioning that, I commend the work of WRAP—especially its online toolkit, which shows those wishing to reuse food waste how to go about it.
As for producers, smaller and family farms have to rely on working outside the farm for much of the time to produce even a living wage for the family. At the same time, the profits of those nearer the market continue to show that there is money in food. I know that this statistic is often quoted, but Tesco is currently on record as making profits of about £10 million a day. I therefore join those who call for the speedy introduction of the groceries code adjudicator. Farmers also have to cope with the unpredictable weather that climate change is producing. As I speak, I am particularly aware of those whose crops have seen no decent rain for over a month, with temperatures last month being nearer to the post-harvest levels of August than to April’s.
There have been new entrants. However, if anyone is brave enough to go into farming today, they will discover that unless they have a family farm, finding new land is like finding hens’ teeth. The number of local authority tenanted farms has halved since the 1940s, covering about 100,000 acres today. The current financial squeeze on local authorities is likely to diminish the number further still; and, disgracefully, the previous Government decided not to take up the support offered under the new entrants’ part of the rural development regulation. Life for farmers in the UK is also made difficult because of a tremendous lack of support for co-operatives—for machinery rings, marketing co-operatives and all the other things that make life easier for the smaller producer. Those are problems for all of us because this is about assets for the future of food production.
Finally, we still have to work on soil and water quality in this country, let alone in the rest of the world. We also have our own problems with biodiversity. Defra, for example, has been measuring the number of farmland birds as an indicator of farmland health. It says that these bird populations are a good indicator of the broad state of wildlife on farmland because they are near the top of the food chain. Still, the number of farmland wild birds has decreased at a rate of about 10 per cent over 10 years. That may not sound much but it is an awful lot of birds to be lost in 10 years. Those who listened to “Farming Today” this morning will have heard about the plight of the bumblebee. The general health of that population is very worrying indeed.
Although our agriculture model is fit for export and could make a contribution, it is not a model that the rest of the world would want to take up more generally in relation to diet.
Perhaps the jewel in our crown is our knowledge and research base. On this point, however, I differ from some of the other speakers. I would worry tremendously if we concentrated only on GM research. I would not rule it out, as it might have a part to play in the future, but in view of what is happening with some of the other incredibly valuable research going on, there are other things to worry about. For example, in a letter to the Times last September, the leading academics in the world of entomology underlined how drastic the situation is:
“There are now less than ten pest management specialists teaching in all UK universities”.
If you think of where pests are likely to be, the increases that will happen under climate change and the threat that insects pose to our global food production, that is really serious.
I make a plea that research does not concentrate on GM and that it starts to address the wider issues as well. Another example is the Rothamsted Institute, home to much excellent research, which saw a win-win situation when it looked at the issue of stem borers in east Africa and striga weed. The ecologically based system of intercropping that it came up with increased animal forage, increased soil quality and fertility and managed the borer problem, so it was a win-win-win. If it had simply had a crop that was resistant to borers, those other things would not have been realised.
It is important that our contribution to global food security is to underpin with resources the research base that this country has given the world throughout the past decades—indeed, the past century. That is in danger. What is the project in real terms over the next three years for research funding for UK agriculture, food storage and, in particular, entomology?
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as a farmer and as chair of the partners’ board of the Living with Environmental Change research programme, a collaboration of public funders and research agencies. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Byford on this timely debate. It is extremely appropriate that, only a few weeks after the publication of the Foresight project report on the future of food and farming that she mentioned in her excellent introduction to the debate, we have an opportunity effectively to address the issues that are so well analysed in that report. The Government Office for Science commissioned that report. As my noble friend reminded us, it took advice from all around the world. Now that it has made such an analysis and pointed to the global challenges that are being faced, it is, as I said, extremely appropriate that we should today address the issues of which of these challenges have implications for the United Kingdom, not just in agriculture but wider afield, and of how that should impact on our land management and agricultural policy in Europe as a whole.
The analysis points to at least four main tranches of issues, each one of which on its own would present real problems of food security. Put them together and they amount to a powerful combination. The issues are demographic, economic, environmental and political. Never underestimate how little support agriculture gets in the parts of the world where one would assume it would be a high priority. Together, these four pressures amount to substantial challenges, and the UK must consider how we can contribute to meeting them.
What is inescapable, whether at national or global level, is that the only way we are going to be able to meet these food security issues is to produce more food from the same quality of land or less—there will not be any more—using fewer inputs, fewer resources and less demand on natural resources, particularly water; with reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, and indeed of other pollutants; and with a reduced environmental footprint. That sounds like a tall order. It is summed up in the Foresight report as “sustainable intensification”, and I like that expression. The problem is, of course, that most people seem to object to the word “intensification”—illogically so. Rather in the way in which people object to the word “pesticide”, it sounds as though it is a force that should be denied as a tool. You cannot produce the food or achieve food security without increased intensification, but it must be sustainable. We have to think through very carefully what we mean by “sustainable intensification”.
Globally, we are trying to balance future demand and supply, but we are also trying to ensure stability. It is no good having spikes up and down; they are equally disastrous. We have seen two spikes in the past three or four years. We must also ensure that, even if we produce enough food, there is adequate access for those who at the moment are deprived of it. There are areas that are exporting food alongside communities who have no access to that food themselves.
Then there are the environmental issues that have been touched on, which cannot be divorced from the issue of food security. How do we manage these food systems while mitigating the effects of climate change? And, of course, how do we maintain our biodiversity? It is asking too much for every culture to enhance biodiversity, but we must certainly maintain it and, of course, the ecosystem services on which we ultimately all depend. The national ecosystem assessment will, I believe, be published next month. That will be an enormously important document from Defra, which will remind us just what we mean by ecosystem services and what must be done by land managers and others to ensure that we protect these services.
Whatever our contribution back here in Europe, one thing that we cannot go back to is protectionism. We all recognise that. Indeed, during the food spikes in 2009 and later, countries such as Russia imposed export bans on grain, which of course exacerbated the problem. Protectionism is a disastrous reaction. We cannot promote self-sufficiency by that means. However, that does not mean that we should neglect the interests of our own population. It is perfectly legitimate for this country—indeed, it has a moral responsibility—to promote the improvements in productivity that will be needed to meet future increases in demand, always supposing that those increases are sustainable.
Agriculture has always relied on its research base. We farmers tend to take a lot of credit for increasing our yields, but a moment’s thought shows that the agricultural engineer, the animal husbandry and plant sciences and the like have served us very well. When the Prime Minister of the day, my noble friend Lady Thatcher, came to the Royal Show in 1983, she reminded us that if other sectors of the economy had been able to adopt new technology so rapidly and successfully the country would not have faced the problems that it faced then in its balance of payments and economy. Agriculture has a proud record, and it should not allow its reputation of intensification to cloud the fact that, through such intensification, we have helped disprove Malthus, who has already had a mention.
The problem is that for 30 years our research base has been whittled away, although not so much in the basic sciences, such as plant sciences, which in fact have done really rather well. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who did a lot when he was Science Minister to ensure that the basic sciences were protected. In the 1980s, to which I referred, when the Government of my own party were so impressed by the contribution of agriculture, they were saying at the same time, “Well, really, you should be standing on your own so far as applied research and extension services are concerned. These, in effect, will be privatised”. That is what happened.
Worse than that, whole tranches of research that had been commissioned by what was then the Ministry of Agriculture were simply cut and replaced by research that was deemed more relevant to policy-makers of the day. It was certainly not cut to support agricultural production. I am sure that there was feeling that the cost of the common agricultural policy was running out of control, and that if there was nothing else you could control you could at least hit the applied research budget. That is what happened, and we were left with a research spectrum—research, development and extension—that was patchy, to say the least. It no longer had the regional representation, the experimental husbandry farms and the experimental horticulture stations. They all went, and we were left with an inability, very often, to take the rapid advances in genomics and animal health through to the farm because there was no longer the applied research.
These problems have been recognised in recent years—all too late, given the lack of capacity—not least by the Taylor review, which, again, has been mentioned. It is an excellent report, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to assure us that that, in turn, is being addressed. We are losing disciplines such as agronomy, soil sciences and animal husbandry.
There are enormous opportunities for agriculture to reduce its emissions globally and nationally, and to increase its carbon sequestration. The management of soils, particularly peat soils, can with adequate research demonstrate how much more we can do to reduce carbon dioxide levels. Second-generation biomass is another very exciting prospect. I do not think that any of us are suggesting that research should concentrate on GM, although I recognise that GM will certainly have a contribution to make in global terms, at least. We need to remind ourselves of the gaps in applied research and put together a coherent collaboration between the public and private sectors, something for which there has never been an overarching plan. It is time that we had one now.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer, still practising, and landowner in Essex. Essex is a peculiar place and not particularly well understood. When I discuss my rainfall average with foreigners—I have kept records since 1961—or even with Londoners, who never have to think about this sort of thing, they say, “But that is arid”. My rainfall would suggest that it is arid. My average rainfall over that period has now pushed up to about 19 inches per annum. Anywhere else in the world, that would be semi-desert. We need to remember how enormously privileged we are in this country to live in a temperate climate. I farm land that is highly productive.
My life has to some extent been coloured by the experience of accompanying my father, who was an active member of something that most people have forgotten: the War Agricultural Executive Committee. I used to accompany him on farm visits during the war. Those people began the revolution that has brought in modern agriculture as we see it, with its highly productive state. However, I fear that if we ever face another crisis such as that which we faced in 1940, we no longer have the capacity to expand our output to meet such a crisis. When we consider the way in which our population is developing, when we are already highly dependent on imports, and look at the global economy, with a world population of 6.5 billion going up to 8.5 billion, becoming more prosperous and therefore competing more for the food imports upon which we depend, we need to worry.
It is perhaps worthwhile putting ourselves into perspective as a nation. I pulled some figures off Wikipedia, which put us right in our place. The global landmass, including Antarctica, is roughly 148.5 million square kilometres; of which 49 million square kilometres are classified only as agricultural; of which 14 million square kilometres are classified as arable land. In this country, our total area is 41,000 square kilometres. We have 1 per cent of global population. In 2050, by neat coincidence, we will still have 1 per cent of global population. We are bit players, but we are of course highly vulnerable to international competition for food supply as the global food circumstances become more difficult. It is estimated that agriculture must double its global output to meet demand in 2050. We have no capacity to double our output so we shall become increasingly dependent, which means that we will have to develop our economy in other ways to sustain the people who will live in our islands in the future.
As my noble friends Lord Selborne and Lady Byford stressed, if we are to increase our farming output we will have to rely hugely on technical developments, technical change and intensification. Indeed, we do rely on them hugely. We face particular problems. We have extremely good plant breeders in this country but they will not undertake research if they know that their remit is limited. On my wish list is something that would revolutionise global agriculture. I desperately want to see a nitrogen-fixing wheat with the same characteristics as plants in the legume family. That would enormously reduce the need to apply artificial fertilisers and would increase soil fertility and enable us to produce good nutritious food. Such a wheat does not exist and cannot be achieved through conventional breeding. That implies that genetic modification must be used, yet, on a psychological level, genetic modification is not accepted in Europe. One hears people speak of dreadful Frankenstein foods. However, our future survival will depend on developments such as I have mentioned. Therefore, I ask my noble friend, when he winds up, to say how he proposes to persuade the European institutions that rule our agricultural lives to change their ways. We need these developments if only because, as the rest of the world increases its output of genetically modified agricultural products, we will cease to be able to purchase the non-genetically modified imports on which we depend. There will be no alternative.
The same attitude applies to herbicides and insecticides. In the old days I used to burn every field of straw on the farm, which I found exciting. I took extreme care over it as a main road runs through my farm but I never had a problem. However, that practice was stopped, and rightly so because one of its bad effects was that it increased what I call the mining aspect of farming—that is, the amount that we extract from our soils. One of the benefits of stopping that practice is that all our waste organic material now remains in the soil and our soils have reverted to the condition they were in when they were originally ploughed up and converted from permanent pasture. That has happened in the past few years and constitutes a highly beneficial change. If we are to maintain our farming going forward, we have to look at that. I have always envied the Fenland farmers who farm highly organic soil. However, they are “miners”, and that practice cannot be sustained.
The use of agricultural by-products for energy production has not been raised but is worth mentioning as a lot of people talk about it. Given the factor that I have mentioned, certainly those of us who farm in the solidly arable parts of the country have no biological waste products as we need to put them back in the soil. The other day I heard it said that even if we used all the agricultural land in the United Kingdom to produce energy, apart from the fact that we would produce no food, we would be able to produce only half the energy that we require. That represents an even lower proportion of our national requirement than is the case with food so we would be better off by far sticking with agriculture and finding our energy from other sources, of which there are plenty.
Speaking from a narrow perspective, we need to keep a very close eye on our long-term vulnerability. Although I have some sympathy with those who want to keep the countryside pure, unsullied and environmentally friendly, I have to warn them that in the longer term that simply may not be practical. The attitude that prevailed in my youth, with which my noble friend Lord Plumb will certainly be familiar, when food output had to take priority over planting trees and other such measures, may well have to be reasserted. If we do not, we may not be able to survive in the way that we would wish.
My Lords, like others I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for introducing this debate with, as has been stressed, its global dimension and its perspective on global food security. I congratulate her on her introductory speech.
I begin by picking up the theme of research and development that has been referred to by a number of speakers, not least because, as we are all acutely aware, in times of financial cuts and stringency R&D is so often one of the earliest casualties. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked the Minister what funding will be made available over the next three years in the light of the reductions that have taken place over the past 30 years, about which we have already been reminded. What resources will the Government continue to devote to this area, and will they increase those resources? What encouragement will they give to our universities and other institutions to broaden their research to cover many areas other than GM as we need that breadth of research?
The Future of Food and Farming picks up a number of the areas where research and development is so vital. Those include, for example: producing more food efficiently and sustainably; securing ecosystem services; keeping pace with evolving threats such as the emergence of new and more virulent pests and diseases; and addressing new challenges, many of them arising, as we have been reminded, from climate change, including resistance to increased drought, flooding and salinity. Although much of the research and development that goes on is rightly and necessarily undertaken with our international partners, some of it has to be specific to the context of these islands. Our geography, and therefore our climate and geology, have a particularity which means that the research that we need is very much an essential part of the sustainability, continuity and development of our farming here in Britain. It is not enough for us to rely just on partnerships with others elsewhere in the world.
If we are to sustain and develop our farming, that requires, naturally enough, among other things, fair prices for our farmers. We do not want businesses to collapse, nor do we want there to be a lack of money for financial investment in the future. Achieving fair prices requires all of us, including the Government in terms of the contribution that they can make, to play a role. For a long time, the church has championed the important role of farmers in producing our food, securing the UK’s food supply and receiving a fair price for what is produced. At the same time, as an institutional investor, the church holds shares in and meets with major supermarkets.
In 2007, the Church of England produced a report, Fair Trade Begins at Home: Supermarkets and the Effect on British Farming Livelihoods. That report clearly stated the damage that was being done and that continues to be done to farming livelihoods by inappropriate and, I regret to say, at times pernicious practices applied by supermarkets during purchasing. Labelling, promotions, payments, contracts and working practices were, and remain, of particular concern. The Church of England contributed to, and has consistently supported, the implementation of the Competition Commission recommendations and welcomes the proposals for a groceries code adjudicator.
Recent conversations with farming businesses have elicited examples of barriers to new products coming on to the market or to scaling up supply, such as prohibitive payments for listing. Squeezes on the profitability and indeed the viability of primary producers, who find it hardest to get fair prices, remain recurrent complaints. This is particularly relevant for the dairy sector, beef production and pigs, where the prices paid are often below the cost of production.
When one party holds the power in a relationship and the other holds the risk, this can lead, at best, to unbalanced transfer of risk and, at worst, to abuse of power that is extremely damaging and, if I may say so, immoral. With the appropriate powers, the adjudicator will have the potential to address these injustices, which are impediments to the successful operation of the grocery supply chain in the long term, and to UK agriculture contributing to global food supply. I therefore ask the Minister to bring forward the proposals in the coalition programme for government about which we have heard a good deal in many ways. However, we still need a groceries code adjudicator and the terms of reference. We still need this to happen.
I turn to a different area. If UK farming and agriculture are to be sustained, we need a proper farming ladder and points of entry for those who want to come into farming for the first time. The national chairman for the Tenant Farmers Association, Jeremy Walker, spoke yesterday to the RABI at its AGM. Among other things, he said:
“County Council smallholdings are vital for continuity of access into the industry and for the maintenance of a proper functioning farming ladder”.
We agree. It is alarming to know that the number of local authority smallholdings has reduced by nearly 10,000 in the past 55 years. That represents a massive reduction of 77 per cent. As we know, these county farms have often been the way into farming. If they are taken out in the way that they have been, huge difficulties are caused for the whole industry. As Sir Don Curry said in 2008, the county farms should be considered to be a national asset. I should again be pleased to hear from the Minister in what way, as a national asset, the Government are seeking to safeguard the remaining number of county farms, whereby the farming ladder can be as secure as possible.
Another aspect that Jeremy Walker picked up on was about ensuring that there are not only entry points but dignified exit points for older farmers. He continued:
“The Government should consider a number of measures including tax incentives for landlords who provide accommodation to retiring tenants”.
I should again be pleased to hear whether the Minister agrees with that and whether he can say what can be done to help those who want to retire to do so, again to help new people come into farming and therefore continue to sustain the farming that we not only have but want to grow and develop further.
The emphasis in the debate is on global issues and, therefore, exports and fair trade, about which we have heard, are vital. We have been reminded of the statistics and that we will need to double food production by 2050. We cannot afford, as we have been reminded, any trade barriers or dumping that destabilises food production in other countries. We need to continue to address the issue of waste, whereby 7 million tonnes, as we have been reminded, and up to 40 per cent of what is produced are wasted. These are urgent issues for us all to face and we must play what part we can in ensuring that continuity is there, and within the UK to address this global need, and to ensure global food security.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for giving us the opportunity to hear a number of incredibly good speeches. I apologise very swiftly to my noble friend Lord Plumb because I missed his marvellous contribution, thanks to a minor emergency. I shall certainly read his speech carefully tomorrow. The six-letter word, wisdom, comes from my noble friend.
Your Lordships may discover my interests in agriculture in the booklet, so I shall say no more than that. Further back in my parliamentary career, your Lordships may find that in 1984 I was, if I may put it politely, catapulted across St George’s Channel to Northern Ireland. I hope that I do not tread on any of my noble friend Lord Arran’s toes or say anything out of place, but one of the first things I learnt in Northern Ireland was that we are on the other side of the United Kingdom to that area so beautifully described by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. He was very humble about rainfall. Although he did not mention it, my understanding is that there is less rainfall in Essex than in Israel. That is something to take on board and appreciate when it comes to agricultural production in the United Kingdom.
What I certainly discovered in Northern Ireland were the skills of men in adapting what you can produce and the tools of the trade to the climate. There is enormous rainfall in Northern Ireland, but the skills of everyone in the agricultural industry, including animal production and welfare, and its products, meat and fish, were second to none. The environment in Northern Ireland very much met what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, was so keen on. Perhaps it was a tribute to me that when I went to Northern Ireland, I was told that drainage was particularly important. By the time I left it was called—never use one word when three will do—water course management. Nevertheless, it was a crucial aspect of agriculture in that neck of the woods.
I hope that the right reverend Prelate will accept that I take on board—I hope we all do—what he said. I was told that one duty of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland was to advertise, if not necessarily to sell, the wonderful products that we had. Extraordinarily, I found a tiny use for my qualities, I would not say talents, in foreign languages when I went to ANUGA—what a marvellous acronym—one of the world's biggest food fairs, in Cologne. I went on to Paris, to SIAL, another colossal food fair. I finished up in Berlin at what they call Green Week, which was more or less retail, it was not giant corporations, it was everyone coming to see what was available. All those great expeditions gave me a huge insight into presentation and notification to the public of what we have available and what is available on a world basis in food and agricultural products.
One of the main themes of my noble friend’s subject for debate is food security. If we open the newspapers, we read about enormous grain shortages—we shall hear more about that later. In 2011, 2010 and 2009, there were huge shortages in Russia and serious problems in Australia. Thanks to much improved worldwide communication and markets, there will not, we hope, be a serious problem of world hunger. That may come, and we shall hear more about that from the Minister.
One of the most useful things for me to read in preparing for today's debate was the report produced by Sir John Beddington, the Foresight report, which has been referred to by my noble friend and many others. In the O-level copy given to me, on page 3, it refers to the cold northern areas having a longer growing season. On a UK basis, those of your Lordships who follow me, let alone my noble friend Lord Caithness, to the far north, to Wick, will discover that we may get shorter nights in winter but by gosh, in summer we get much longer evenings. That has given me some education as to why Speyside is one of the great producers of one of our natural product in Scotland, Scotch whisky, because we get at least an hour or an hour and a half longer of growing time and sunshine than may my noble friend in Essex. The wise words in the Foresight report about northern areas chimes with what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, about global warming and environmental change. There may be global warming and threats of grapes being grown in our neck of the woods—although my next-door neighbour, the Earl of Strathmore, was growing grapes in greenhouses in his garden five years ago. That was not global warming, but it shows what can be done if you take great care.
Further on in his report, Sir John Beddington uses the marvellous phrase “a perfect storm” by 2030. He refers to genetically modified crops. I just add the word “please”. I hope that the wonderful research institutes can push their studies a little further and use the enormous knowledge not just in the UK and Europe but around the world to piece together the scientific knowledge to ensure that those new techniques can be brought into production without damaging the environment or human health or presenting a danger to anyone. I read about one example—it was not in the specialist press; I think it was in the Financial Times, which I have tried to study because it gives me education. Genetically modified cotton and other crops tend to use substantially less water, let alone need substantially less sunshine—sometimes up to 50 per cent less. Please let us keep, with all humility, studying genetically modified crops and, above all, use the wonderful talents of humans in research.
I hope to stay under my time and that my noble friend on the Front Bench will lower her blood pressure mildly, because I shall sit down fairly soon, but my noble friend Lady Byford was concerned that agriculture be sustainable. Several speakers have referred to Defra—that happy acronym for the ministry. My noble friend Lord Arran may have more to say about that. In Northern Ireland, I saw the unique talent of our research department in the Department of Agriculture at a place called New Forge Lane in Belfast. It had unique talents in grass management and animal welfare.
One morning in Belfast, I was rather startled to find a delegation from Saudi Arabia. I wondered whether it was a full moon, or that I had not looked at the seasons. I thought, “Good heavens, what are they coming here for?”. Dr Sullivan, the head of the research department said, “Oh no, Minister, they are coming to look at”, not poultry—as is typical in Northern Ireland, he never used one word where two will do, “the fowl sector”. That is spelt “fowl”; I do not discuss football. I made suitable noises, but I was stunned and delighted that we had experts from Saudi Arabia who could have gone anywhere in the world and anywhere in the United Kingdom. They came to Belfast because of our unique experience in producing hens, eggs, poultry and the beloved fowls. They came there to learn.
I hope that when my noble friend comes to wind up the debate, including the far wiser remarks than I have made, he will be able to reassure us that finance and support will be available for research in agriculture throughout the United Kingdom. In my neck of the woods, in Scotland, that is devolved. Just 20 miles from me, in Invergowrie, we have world experts in soft fruit and raspberries. I declare an interest in considerable consumption of them. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure us that agricultural research into boosting our sustainable agriculture will be encouraged and that he will give all support to it.
I conclude by thanking my noble friend for her wisdom today and for a long time. We know that she is an enormous expert in her neck of the woods in Lincolnshire.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Byford on securing this important debate today. My noble friend is of course a formidable expert in agricultural matters and a stalwart supporter of the industry and those involved in it. I should declare an interest: I used to farm, very badly, in Shropshire and Staffordshire, and my youngest son is a producer of free-range eggs in Lincolnshire. I agree entirely with all the right reverend Prelate said regarding supermarkets.
It is both right and important that British agriculture should contribute to global food security. Our agriculturalists are renowned worldwide for their expertise. Our methods and practices are the envy of the world. Our standards of animal welfare are among the highest. Yet the UK has allowed her self-sufficiency to decline steadily over the years. Since 2008, Governments of all political colours have realised the need, in the face of high prices and shortages of raw materials and energy supplies, as well as a less benign geopolitical climate, to ensure that the UK has adequate food security. That is to be welcomed but, for example, the proportion of home-grown vegetables fell from 70 per cent in 1997 to 58 per cent in 2007, while self-sufficiency in eggs fell from 87 per cent in 2000 to 80 per cent in 2010. It is the egg industry on which I wish to concentrate today and, as my noble friend Lord Lyell just mentioned, the fowl sector.
Free-range egg production has been one of the few bright spots in agriculture over the past couple of decades, but that star has waned somewhat of recent months. Year-on-year growth has been steady and, most recently, in double figures, which is remarkable in that industry. It has been consistently profitable for producer and packer alike. However, two events occurred last autumn which have made life very difficult for all free-range producers. The first was a massive jump in feed costs—and the industry would very much welcome GM crops—over which the industry has absolutely no control. Secondly, at the same time, the egg market in general was in oversupply both at home and on the continent. The cage sector situation was probably down to some parallel-running of old conventional cages which were closing, with some of the new enriched colony cages already in production. In most cases, the moves on cages have meant building new farms rather than re-equipping existing ones. I understand that the industry has had to invest well north of £400 million in the move to the new colony cages in order to comply with the new EU legislation, which is the welfare of laying hens directive. The oversupply in the cage production sector has been rapidly eliminated by the market conditions and has hastened the closure of the old cage farms.
At this stage, I should like to ask the Minister what message Her Majesty’s Government have for egg producers in the United Kingdom who, at considerable cost to themselves, will have complied with the requirements of Council Directive 1999/74/EC—the welfare of laying hens directive—as against other producers elsewhere in the EU who have not, and will not do so by 1 January 2012, but none the less will still enjoy unfettered market access to the United Kingdom.
Free-range egg production is still suffering. The overexpansion of this sector probably came about by some packers encouraging expansion when they did not have a market for those eggs. Because the market had been growing so well, they simply assumed that they would be able to sell them somewhere to someone. In addition, capital grants available in Scotland and Wales for free-range production have not helped and have encouraged production in areas where the egg is not going to be consumed locally. In addition, because of this glut, the packers have been unsuccessful in achieving a price rise to justifiably cover the increased cost of production. This is where the supermarkets come in. That is a typical example of supply and demand.
Significant changes to the way in which egg production is allowed across the EU threaten to impact on the UK’s egg sector. This new legislation, which prohibits the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens from 1 January next, has already cost UK producers around £25 per hen housed. That is a massive cost for producers to bear. However, while this country will be fully compliant, as we always are, not all producers in the EU will comply with the ban.
What view do Her Majesty’s Government take of a partial derogation, for a defined limited period, of the requirements of this Council directive, which would allow the continued production and sale of eggs and egg products produced from conventional cages not in compliance with the requirements of the directive within the member states producing such eggs and egg products?
In conclusion, the United Kingdom egg industry employs 10,000 people directly, with a further 13,000 indirectly. It has a turnover of some £1.5 billion annually and is a massive user of cereal corn. Ninety per cent of eggs produced in the UK meet the stringent standards of the Lion quality code of practice. British Lion quality eggs are consistently rated the safest in the world and are produced to the highest possible welfare standards. This really is a huge success story for British agriculture and we need to support it.
My Lords, it may be appropriate for a Sandwich to follow both chicken and egg. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who is as conscientious now as she was in opposition in bringing these issues forward. My name may be for ever associated with fast food, and I have to declare an interest in both agriculture and the food industry, but, as the noble Baroness knows, today I shall concentrate on world food issues.
Most of us are fortunate to live in rural Britain and not in parts of the world where people are starving. Yet, the noble Baroness has already described the shrinking production and income, and the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, has said that farming is out of balance. Farmers in the West Country near to where I live face severe droughts this week, in spite of the rainfall, while being urged to maintain or increase production for the benefit of mankind.
Feeding the hungry also costs lives. Across the world in southern Sudan, three weeks ago a senior programme assistant of the World Food Programme was killed in an ambush when his vehicle was attacked. He leaves behind a wife and two children. Every year, dozens of aid workers and their drivers are killed, and hundreds of lorries are hijacked or destroyed. That is the price of bringing food to the hungry during conflict, and perhaps it should be costed as part of the waste of food in the world.
Sudan is the World Food Programme’s largest mission. It brings food to up to 6 million people, including those on the front line in Darfur, Abyei and several other areas of conflict. In the south, it is currently providing food assistance to 1.5 million people, including returnees to the south and communities recovering from decades of instability and conflict.
Another 5 million are awaiting food in the Horn of Africa this year, but here the story is a little better. Following the drought in east Africa two years ago, there were areas of surplus in Kenya, Uganda and even Ethiopia last year, and the WFP was able to buy grain from all three countries at a value of $139 million. Therefore, with Zimbabwe still out of the grain market, it is a relief to see surpluses coming from Africa, especially east Africa.
I was in northern Ethiopia in March and, although I saw ox-ploughs and drills in action on semi-arid land, there is now concern that the current long rains are below normal. In some areas, the maize price is going up from 25 to 120 per cent, and cereal prices may increase by 40 to 50 per cent, compounded by rising fuel prices.
The Foresight report is an authoritative document and benefits from the wisdom of both farming and international development experts being brought together—people such as Dr Camilla Toulmin, who has vast experience of the environment and development. The report says that our present system is unsustainable, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already described the need for sustainable intensification. On a global level, we have more than 900 million hungry people to feed out of a total population of 7 billion, and that may reach 9 billion by 2050. Incidentally, considering that it is the lunch hour, it is worth mentioning that perhaps 1 billion people overeat and that the problem of obesity should also be addressed.
I was glad to read in the CLA briefing for today that its emphasis is on maintaining, not increasing, productivity. We all remember the rush to use those embarrassing subsidised grain surpluses incurred at that time, with the farmers’ Send a Tonne to Africa campaign, and a well known Cambridgeshire farmer actually following his surpluses out to Eritrea. In the 1970s, when I first joined Christian Aid, aid agencies were still paying for Land Rovers full of grain to cross the desert to reach the starving.
Now, the crisis seems further away. The surpluses have gone and we speak in more measured tones about the need to sustain and broaden our own agriculture and support the “greening” of the CAP. However, there is no less urgency to feed the world. It is the language that has changed and the questions now, both here and in developing countries, are all about inputs, GM crops, biofuels, more applied research and the careful handling of natural resources.
On GM and fertilisers, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I still have misgivings about the concept of the highly irrigated green revolution because of the amount of irrigation and inputs that it requires and the social divisions it can cause. It is all right for the Punjab but not for most of the Deccan, for example, and I doubt whether it would pass the stringent tests of the Foresight report in terms of carbon emissions. As the noble Baroness said, there are many available alternatives and dry-land farming is now a highly developed and respectable science which benefits from research right across Africa and India. I am not a biofuels enthusiast either because of the amount of land and forest they consume in countries such as Brazil where the sugar industry is based literally on the backs of forced migrant labour. I hope that Africa does not follow Brazil down that route.
I notice in looking at the DfID website that while climate and environment is one of the emerging policy areas, agriculture is not. It seems that the first millennium development goal, eradicating poverty and hunger, will not be met in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. Investment in agriculture in Africa, which also means infrastructure—especially rural roads and bringing more land into production—has been long neglected and is still at a very low level. I was encouraged by the conclusion in the Foresight report that there was a lot of potential in Africa and that investment is recovering. However, DfID estimates that with a 2 degree increase in temperature, up to 400 million could be at risk of hunger and up to 2 billion could be short of water. I suspect that these are not new numbers. Most of these people are already included in the world’s hungry. Perhaps these alarming figures will be a catalyst to getting more investment in water conservation and rain-fed agriculture.
A lot of sensible, practical agriculture, of the kind already undertaken out of necessity by the poorest communities, can be done under the heading of climate change. It is the same old story under a new environmental label. To take, for instance, Ethiopia, in much of sub-Saharan Africa and the arid central belt in India, stone walls, terracing and tree-planting are essential, and have been for many years, to prevent erosion and deforestation. DfID says that it is climate-proofing all its aid programmes, and this is also the EU Commission’s policy. The same is true of the CAP. We are relabelling farming as sustainable agriculture and attempting to move further away from outright productivity. It is difficult and the Minister will agree that we are in a dilemma here. We are entering discussion on the EU financial framework from 2014 and there is very little room for manoeuvre. Will the Government, as our EU Committee has recommended, move away from direct and environmental payments towards rural development and a more flexible farm policy in Pillar 2? That means adjustment which will not necessarily go down well with our own farmers.
Finally, the Minister will remember my interest in the Government’s decision to establish a groceries adjudicator, and many voices have been heard in support today. If the office is now established, there will be a lot of staff in proportion to the interest that has been expressed.
My Lords, I join all your Lordships in thanking once again my noble friend Lady Byford for securing this very important debate. She has always been a tremendous supporter of British agriculture in your Lordships’ House and she always brings issues of food production to our attention—and very important they are, too. I start by declaring an interest in that my wife is a farmer with an extensive dairy herd in Devon. I am also on Sub-Committee D with the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, as my chairman—and a very good chairman he is.
We have had an extraordinarily well informed debate from a variety of experienced contributors covering a broad range of topics. I do not make much of an apology for covering those topics again, though briefly, because each is critically important. I should like to concentrate, although not exclusively, on the role that retailers and processors play in the food supply chain, as already so ably expressed by the right reverend Prelate, and how their attitudes and actions impact on Britain’s ability to feed itself and, where possible, the rest of the world. While the dominance of the supermarkets is often highlighted in debates around the viability of farming, it is still a vital issue in the context of this debate.
It is undeniable that we have an inequitable food supply chain. The pig sector, for example, provides some concrete evidence of this. Over the past three years, it is estimated that retailers have maintained a profit level of more than £100 per pig and processors have maintained a profit level of £40 per pig. Meanwhile, producers are currently losing more than £20 per pig and have been moving from loss to profit and back into loss again for years. It is not just the pig farmers to whom this applies. Something must be done to remedy this wholly unsustainable situation, and it seems that the supermarkets are not willing to take responsible action themselves to secure the future of the British food industry. It has therefore fallen to government to address this issue and save the British farming industry from predation by retailers. Part of the problem is that retailers have shareholders but their food is of a different kind, which is profit. There is nothing wrong with profit, but it must be balanced with sensible returns to producers, which at the moment it is not.
The greatest chance the Government and your Lordships have of ensuring greater equality in the food chain is by establishing, as already mentioned, a grocery code adjudicator to police the existing grocery supply code of practice. The coalition’s programme for government contained a pledge to introduce such an office but a year on, we have seen little action on this. In addition to the timely introduction of the GCA, the office must have enforceable powers to take firm action against injustice and irresponsibility. Naming and shaming of retailers who breach the code is simply not enough. The GCA must be given authority to issue punitive fines to those who flout the agreed rules. In addition, complainants to the GCA must be allowed to remain anonymous should they desire. If the retail and processing industries were allowed to create some sort of blacklist of dangerous producers the whole regime would be undermined and innocent farmers simply trying to claim their rights would be punished and could be forced out of business. It is imperative that the GCA has real teeth, which need to bite when necessary to deal with issues of abuse in the supply chain. It will fall to this Parliament to ensure that the legislation, which is due to appear in draft form imminently, contains the necessary provisions. The GCA must not—I repeat not—be a mere talking shop that purely pays lip service.
I now turn to wider issues in the farming industry, many of which have been covered already, but I shall do so briefly. The efficiency of British agriculture is obviously central to the debate around food security. Britain has long been a centre of agricultural research and development but it is imperative that it remains so in future. There are two substantive points here which I will deal with in turn. First, there is research and development, already strongly mentioned by many of your Lordships. There are a variety of technologies related to farming which play an important part in ensuring global food security. Research into these fields must be supported so that it can continue to flourish. British agricultural R&D has been in savage decline over the past few years and is now at a critical level. The agricultural industry already contributes to research funding through levies on industry participants but this needs to be reinforced by government, not only through direct financial support but through mechanisms, such as taxation, science policy and other initiatives.
Secondly, briefly, I shall refer to GMOs. It is a fact that Europe lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to revolutionary technology. In 2009, there were roughly 35 million hectares of GM maize grown worldwide, compared to a pitiful 9,000 hectares of GM maize within the EU. These are not good statistics and show just how damaging the emotive issues around the development of GM crops are to the farming industry in Europe. GM crops allow for increased yields, which will be a key tool in helping farmers sustain production levels amid reducing water resources and increased pressure from climate change. We must push Europe for action on GM crops to allow us to take advantage of this powerful technology. Before that, the Government will need to demonstrate clearly the safety and reliability of GMOs. Unless they do so, the public will be sceptical and will remain unconvinced.
I turn to the grave issue of bovine TB. Many of us are all too familiar with the problem and the disastrous effect that it is having on the British livestock and dairy industries. The Government are taking their time on the issue, given the need to ensure that the policy is implementable, effective and legally sound. However, this does not allay the constant fears of stockmen that their herds will contract the disease. This is yet another issue that on the surface may seem to have no direct impact on food security. However, if one looks a little deeper, it certainly does. Bovine TB is forcing some farmers out of business. This closes down supply chains, reduces breeding stock and diminishes the overall farming industry, as well as having wider impacts on the industries that feed in to farming. That is why the Government must come forward with an effective plan to deal with bovine TB, and the reservoir of the disease in wildlife.
Badgers are causing very severe problems, particularly in my part of the woods, the West Country. As they are protected and unchecked, they move from herd to herd, spreading the disease across the country. Vaccination and culling both have a part to play in eradicating the disease from wildlife, but we must have an effective policy in place or risk the disease becoming endemic and creating a disastrous situation for wildlife and livestock. I understand that it will take up to four years to provide an effective vaccine. We cannot wait that long.
The crux of the issue of competitiveness and food security is ensuring that each country plays its part in feeding its own people and, where possible, the people of other nations. In order for this to happen, we must ensure that all countries remain competitive so that their food production industries are sustainable. Self-sufficiency is not a silver bullet for the problem of food security, but reducing unnecessary imports and unfair exports will help to ease the problem. British agriculture has to remain competitive for the sake of the rest of the world.
This point ties up all the issues that I have mentioned. First, supermarkets must not be allowed to undermine domestic production with the threat of cheaper imports. Secondly, we must continue to develop and share new technologies that will allow more efficient production. We must allow European farmers to produce their own GM feed and crops, rather than relying on and being undermined by those countries that already embrace the practice; and we must stop the spread of bovine TB, which is severely damaging our livestock industry, with all that that entails.
I cannot overemphasise the importance of the points that I have raised. The Government have the authority and responsibility to deal with them—and quickly. Britain has a huge part to play in global food security. We have a responsibility, not only to our own people but also to our neighbours, near and far, to live up to expectations and contribute to our full potential. As concrete steals across the western world, the scarcity of land continues to increase at an alarming rate. This does not bode well for an ever-increasing global population that needs to be and must be fed.
My Lords, I am extremely honoured to be able to speak in the debate introduced by my noble friend Lady Byford. However, I feel a sense of nervousness, surrounded as I am by landed Barons and belted Earls—although I am not sure what a belted Earl is. I doff my cap to them because I have the humility to be a peasant farmer. I am a French peasant farmer, with a numéro SIREN and SIRET, in a vineyard in Provence from where wine shipped to the United Kingdom in the second century BC arrived at Hengistbury Head. It was in this area that vin clair was first introduced, which later became claret and Bordeaux. As noble Lords will know, Bordeaux of reasonable troisième cru is selling at £124 a bottle, and China is buying more wine from Bordeaux than the United Kingdom and America put together.
As a peasant farmer, I suffer and feel for others around the world. We suffer inevitably from the dangers of flood, pestilence and frost. This year has not been good—and when a year is bad, there is often intervention by the state. The river has risen by 12 metres three times this year. The house has had to be redecorated and the roof taken off. At the moment we are struggling to find sufficient vines to replant to replace 8,000 that were lost. Wild boar ate nearly six tonnes of grapes last year while we only managed to get one. Here there is a problem with bureaucracy. You cannot eat a wild boar unless it has been slaughtered in an official EU slaughterhouse. Six people with guns do not qualify as an EU slaughterhouse, so I have not been able to eat any part of a wild boar.
Against this background I raise certain issues. When there are problems, the state helps. However, it surveys you from above. It counts the number of vines to make sure that you have no more than a certain number of empty ones, otherwise you may lose your appellation contrôlée. It is confusing because they are not used to having an idiot like me down there. I am meant to be Lord Selsdon, but the name does not matter because I have to be called “Monsieur Lord”. I have the great privilege to announce further benefits in kind. I have received a grant from the state—and an international one at that. It was addressed to “Lord Catastrophe Naturelle”. For a long time I have been a walking disaster at most things in life, but I am proud of this.
In my job around the world, I have always looked at peasant farmers and the community that comes with agriculture. My interest in the subject of global food security goes back to when I found myself, aged four and with my two year-old sister, in a strange British nursery school that had emigrated from Rottingdean to Canada because the Germans were coming. I did not know my parents at all in Canada, but I liked the war because I liked ships. Sometimes I listened to Mr Churchill and Mr Roosevelt. I wanted to know why all the ships were being sunk by U-boats. Someone said that it was because England—I was Scottish but they did not mention Scotland—would starve without food. It never entered my mind that war and lack of food were related. Starvation was coming because of a lack of food.
As one looks around the world today, one concludes that there are plenty of places to produce food. When I came back to England, I went to my grandfather's farm. I did not know much, but I was put in charge of chickens, ducks and rabbits. There was rationing, which I was not used to because I had been well fed. We had to send the eggs to people in London, unless they were laid in hedgerows, when you could not tell their age. You could float them, but you were not allowed to send eggs that had been laid in hedgerows because they might be bad by the time they arrived. These eggs were put into that lovely substance called isinglass, where you would keep them for ever and a day. Occasionally, one of the ducks would kill a chicken. We did not have to send off the chicken, but could eat it. We had an American airborne division nearby. They wanted eggs and, as a small boy, I would do a trade. They would give me petrol from the Jeep and that would enable my grandfather to let me, at the age of six, drive the green van.
All my life I have been interested in agricultural production. After I left industry, I went to work in a team doing agricultural and economic research. We looked at the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, I asked: “Where does food come from?”. When I was trying to save the shipbuilding industry in England, which failed, the Department for Transport kindly gave me a chart which I still value desperately. The chart shows the position of Her Majesty’s ships at sea and in harbour 14 days after I was born, in 1937. I should add that the figures for British commodity imports at that time—the amount we had to import as a percentage of the total—from 20 world regions were: wheat, 64 per cent; maize, 93 per cent; barley, 86 per cent; rice, 72 per cent; meat, 80 per cent; coffee, 79 per cent; cocoa, 90 per cent; tea, 96 per cent, and so on—including rubber and other agricultural products. I realised that we would never be self-sufficient in this country, but also that we had a duty to our Commonwealth countries.
The first job that I took on involved agricultural work for the States of Jersey. We found that Jersey royal potatoes were being priced out of the market but that we could get a higher price if they were shipped on a Sunday from Southampton and were all the same size and put in round, rather smart buckets. This idea of agricultural production led us also to sell daffodils in bud to families—you could not sell them to boyfriends and girlfriends. Daffodils in bud could be shipped cheaper. From there I moved to economic work for the Government of India and what they could produce—namely wool and, mainly, minerals, but not much food. My job always was to work out the most economic way of getting something from its place of growing to the market, and that taught me a lot. When I chaired the Government’s Middle East trade committee we looked at food shortages and where things came from. We went on missions together, often pushed by Lord Shackleton and Lord Jellicoe, to such places as French West Africa. I never realised that the Ivory Coast produced so many pineapples or what happened in other countries. Products from French territories would arrive the next day fresh in the markets at Les Halles and later in Rungis.
I now turn to one of the forgotten opportunities. One of the main reasons for our being in all the British territories—the Commonwealth, as we call it today—was to produce food, at which we were very good. It was highly organised and highly efficient, with very good security of transport. We have forgotten that. Of the other territories, the greatest in my view is the Sudan, where I spent a long time looking at the production of grain. Sudan was meant to be the breadbasket of the Middle East. We had the Gezira scheme for cotton, which produced some of the best in the world. All those areas and territories could return.
I thought that I would make some suggestions to some of your Lordships, in particular to the rich, belted Earls and Barons who might join in. We have a certain technology in the United Kingdom. I have already declared that I am intending to order six agricultural satellites. With the new technology we can plot from satellites the growth pattern of deserts and everywhere else over the year, and predict where there will be famine. We have forgotten this technology. Although we may be able to produce things here, the British in one form or another may often be better at managing other people’s affairs than they are their own. At 44,000 kilometres, the Commonwealth has the longest coastline in the world. We look at global food security, which must inevitably include the sea, and we say that there are great opportunities for our resources, particularly our human and technological skills, to be used worldwide. I would hate for us to concentrate just on little Britain.
My Lords, we owe a debt to my noble friend Lady Byford for introducing this debate. Over the years, she has done so much to focus the eyes of British Governments on farming, especially real farming and the problems of farming. This debate is particularly useful at this time. Without any dispute, agriculture is the oldest industry in the world, and unlike many other industries it is quite certain to survive for the wholly foreseeable future. However, it will have great demands put on it and the problem will be seeing how these demands can be met.
I shall talk primarily about British agriculture, but I was very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, went further and spoke about some of the terrible problems that there are. I was rather struck when he talked about the billion obese people, which is a tremendous reflection of the imbalances among human beings. Hundreds of millions of people are starving, yet a lot of people are obese. That is a big problem in Britain, which I know the Government are addressing. It is very sad. The problem is soluble in only one way and it is not by fad diets and all these other things. Very simply, one must eat less. I wish that people would recognise my own recipe, which I hand over freely to anyone; for the lives we lead, most of us need only two meals a day. You need breakfast and one other meal. You do not need three meals a day. If anyone tries that, it will work more certainly than any of the fad diets on offer.
Farming is a wonderful life. It is very demanding but it gives farmers tremendous scope for entrepreneurial management. Farm workers are having increasingly satisfactory lives because they are getting increasingly responsible lives. They have more capital at their disposal and use more highly complicated and very expensive machinery. Therefore, a life in farming is a very good life, which, not surprisingly, many people wish to continue to have.
Above all industries I can think of, farming must be based on free enterprise. The greatest case history ever to show that is collectivisation in the Soviet Union. One of the tragedies is that in Russia today that legacy lives on. Agriculture in Russia, like many other industries, has made virtually no progress since the end of the Soviet Union. I have talked to people who have been there and have looked at some of its crops, and the yields are staggeringly low. Countries in Africa put Russia to shame in what is happening. Therefore, we must never forget that farming, above all industries, is an industry for individual farmers and entrepreneurs, whatever the scale. Peasants can be just as entrepreneurial as larger farmers, but this industry must be as free as possible from bureaucracy.
Sadly, we are all dependent on a huge amount of subsidy, which is primarily a substitute for market prices. I am very glad that so many noble Lords, starting I think with the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, talked about the need to get a better balance between farming and the marketing of the products of farming. The subsidies are a curse, but they are a necessary curse at present. They cause huge bureaucracy. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who was here earlier, for what he did to improve the Rural Payments Agency. It was the most ghastly mess when he took it over and it now performs very much better. I declare an interest as a farmer and as a receiver of the RPA’s single farm payment, about which I have no complaints because I got it in full very early. The administrative system is a great deal better than it was. Further, I am glad that my honourable friend Jim Paice, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, has now taken on a role as chair of the oversight board of the RPA, which is an extremely good move. There is inevitable bureaucracy under the CAP and we must continue to try to minimise it.
Some very large-scale mistakes are being made, one of the biggest in the world being the business of growing food for fuel. Much of it started with the Americans, who were anxious to subsidise their maize producers. It has gone on increasing and it is a very bad idea. Those subsidies come from the taxpayer and they are a distortion. I suggest that for the foreseeable future what is needed is the production of food to eat, not food for fuel. It is a distortion that has been dressed up, as have so many other things, in spurious arguments about climate change. The Americans in particular are doing that. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will look very closely indeed at food for fuel, subject it to rigorous questioning, and greatly reduce it.
My Lords, would not the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, agree that recent studies in the United States show that there is actually net carbon expenditure in the creation of these biofuels because of the enormous costs of processing? It is as much of a delusion as the noble Lord has implied.
It is a huge mistake; I totally agree with the noble Lord. The carbon-generating inputs to turn food into fuel are colossal, arguably sometimes almost as great as the fuel that is eventually produced, and at a considerable cost to many people who need the money. In my view, it is therefore an immoral activity.
On the technology side of agriculture, a lot of discussion about GM has reflected some incredibly Luddite views, even in this House. I am surprised by my noble friend Lady Miller, for whom I have much respect in many ways. I made a note of what she said in her remarks: “GM may have a part to play in the future”. When I was very young and enthusiastic in the early 1960s, I tried to persuade the British Government to use computers more in the administration of hospitals, prisons and so on. A very senior civil servant said to the young pipsqueak that I was then, “Mark, before we spend public money on computers, we have to be sure that they are here to stay”. I was reminded of that by the attitude that some people take towards genetic modification. Let us remember that genetic modification is something that has always happened. The business of moving from wild agriculture to organised cultivation and selecting plants is genetic modification by selection, although not under the microscope. I very much hope that we will not oppose what is probably going to be the single biggest advance in agriculture.
Let us take one example. In Suffolk, which is my part of the world, we along with others are now suffering hugely from drought. In our case, we have actually halved the estimate of the wheat yield that we are going to have this year, so serious is it. There is the irrigation of wheat, but at £25 an acre inch it is very expensive. In March and April alone we were short of four inches of rain, so irrigation is £100 an acre. It is questionable whether the yield can in fact make up that expenditure.
I hope that the agricultural policy approach of this Government will concentrate on two things. The first should be to correct some of the mistakes made, such as growing food for fuel, and the second should be to reduce bureaucracy so that farmers can make the best use they can of the land. Finally, in case anyone thinks that farming does not have a spiritual side to it, one thing farmers have in common is the care of the countryside. No one could mind more than me about the beauty of the countryside. There are very few things that we can leave behind us in this world, but one of them is a more beautiful countryside than we found.
My Lords, like everyone else, I welcome this debate and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on securing it. I think she will agree that it follows well on previous debates in the House, such as the one a few months ago on the reform of the common agricultural policy, and more recently our debate on the report produced by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles on EU agriculture and forestry in the context of the important business of adapting to climate change. Indeed, the debate also follows well on previous debates initiated by the noble Baroness, and I too pay tribute to her assiduity and the knowledge that she displays in such debates. Some time ago she initiated a debate on the Royal Society report, Reaping the Benefits, in which she rightly made great play of the contribution that British agriculture can make to the future.
As the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, we have benefited from a great deal of the personal experience of Members who have talked about their involvement in a variety of agricultural sectors and regions. Those range from arid Essex, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to the slightly less arid Northern Ireland, as described by his neighbour on the Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. Reference was made to many agricultural sectors, whether they be arable, livestock, dairy or the egg industry, which was mentioned in some detail by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury and Waterford. There has been a lot of consensus around the themes that have arisen in the course of the debate, not only on the problems and challenges but on the opportunities for British agriculture in the years to come.
I also detect a lot of continuity between the approach of the coalition Government and that of the previous Government to these issues. In 2010, the Labour Government produced a food strategy that, in its detail, shows a lot of continuity with the pronouncements made by the coalition on its food strategy for the future. As the background briefing for the debate stresses, including the useful note from the House of Commons Library, UK food security is structured around six themes, which were outlined by the previous Government and confirmed by this Government: global availability, global resource sustainability, UK availability and access, UK food chain resilience, food security at the household level, and confidence in the safety of our food supply.
Not surprisingly too during the course of the debate, there has been a lot of consensus around the huge challenges that we face in feeding the world and tackling climate change. Mention was made of the 1 billion people in the world who actually suffer hunger, and another 1 billion who, while not technically starving, suffer from malnutrition and undernutrition in many ways. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out, and as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, echoed, there is also the rather grotesque contrast with the 1 billion people in the world who are claimed to overconsume, leading to the problem of obesity, which was referred to by several speakers. Another important stimulus for the debate was the report of the Foresight project published in January this year, entitled, The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability. In the words of the Ministers’ preface, the report,
“makes a strong case for governments, the private sector and civil society to continue to prioritise global food security, sustainable agricultural production and fisheries, reform of trade and subsidy, waste reduction and sustainable consumption”.
All speakers have referred, as does the debate as a whole, to the issue of food security. Several speakers rightly made the point that this is not the same as food self-sufficiency. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that we are not pulling up the drawbridge and retreating into isolation. That would be impractical and wrong, as speakers pointed out. Food security involves many things as well as production. It certainly involves such things as supply routes, port infrastructure, supply chains and transport policy. As one of the Library notes in the information pack for this debate points out, food security is closely related to energy security—again, a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred.
Given, therefore, that when we talk about food security we talk about several different interests across government, co-ordination across government on this issue is very important. Obviously Defra has an important role to play, but so have DfID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in our relations with other countries, and developing countries in particular; the Department for Transport; the Department for Education and higher education in training and research; BIS; the Department of Energy and Climate Change; and, indeed, the Treasury. Could the Minister tell us when he replies what discussions have taken place across government on these issues? What mechanisms exist to take the co-ordination forward for the future? This is something that the Government need to concentrate on.
It would not make sense to talk about these issues simply in the context of the UK. Not surprisingly, for this reason the debate has had a strong international focus as well. I welcome that. For a start, we are part of the European Union. Reform of the CAP, which is so vital in this area, is a very important issue for the future. A briefing prepared for us by the CLA, which contained many excellent points, stresses the importance of the EU for many aspects of this debate. That means not only the CAP but external trade policy, food health policy, large areas of environment policy and areas of research policy.
On CAP reform, my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles rightly referred to some of the choices that Europe has to make for the future and some of the challenges that it will have to face up to if reform of the CAP is to make economic sense and make sense to the general public who, after all, support that policy through their taxes. The Society of Biology has said:
“The CAP should achieve a balance between the economic, social and environmental benefits of agriculture”.
It also said:
“There should be no public subsidy without public goods”.
Certainly, the public will support spending in this area if they believe that clear environmental and other public goods will accrue as a result. To change the CAP in the way that many of us would like, the Government will have to build up allies within the EU context and take into account some of the changing attitudes—which, again, my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles mentioned—among EU countries that have traditionally perhaps been strong supporters of the CAP but are now starting to see things slightly differently.
We have a duty to promote free and fair world trade, as was mentioned by many Members in this debate, and to get the best possible relationship with developing countries. This includes transferring technology that could help those developing countries to increase their productivity. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, despite recognising the problems that exist, pointed out some positive sides and signs of hope in production, particularly in Africa.
We must also honour our international climate change responsibilities. In this respect, and thinking of some of the issues that were raised in the other place in agricultural questions this morning, I hope that the Government are still committed to mandatory carbon reporting. It would be good to get the Government’s reaction to that. The extreme weather events that have taken place also concerned many Members over the course of this debate. It is vital, therefore, that there are changes in water policy, for example.
Research was mentioned by virtually all Members in this debate. Time does not allow me to pick up on the many excellent points, but the message about the importance of research will come over very strongly to the Minister today. In that respect, I also say to the Minister who deals with higher education policy that it is somewhat concerning that, when we are trying to get new and well qualified people into agriculture, most of the universities with specific agricultural and farming courses are charging the highest tuition fees. Far from this being the exception, it now looks as though charging at the highest level will be the rule, particularly for students taking agricultural degrees.
I have run out of time but I shall say finally that this is my swan-song as the member of the Front Bench who deals with these issues. I am standing down from the Front Bench, and I take the opportunity to thank the Minister. We have not always agreed but there have been quite a large number of issues on which we have agreed. I thank him for his courtesy while I have fulfilled this role. Although I am neither a belted Earl nor a peasant farmer, to use the phrases of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, I will remain interested in and committed to the future of agriculture and our countryside. I wish my successor well. I conclude by thanking the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss these issues today.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed. I should add to these, since poultry has been mentioned by several speakers, the ownership of five maran hens and two Barnevelders. They are very free range and I occasionally get some eggs from them.
I start by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, who, as she has just announced, is stepping down as the Opposition’s official spokesman on Defra matters. She ended with two rather tricky questions. One, on HE and the level of fees, was directed to me. Since her successor has put that Question on the Order Paper for next Wednesday, I look forward to answering it then. Her other very good point was about the extreme weather that we increasingly face in this country, and how we must adapt to climate change. I remind her that we published our own department’s report on adaptation to climate change earlier this week, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, launched here in London. I will make sure that we get hold of a copy of the report and send it to the noble Baroness as part of her retirement package. She can look forward to reading that in due course. I am sure we look forward to the noble Baroness taking part in debates of this sort from the Back Benches in the future.
Like all other speakers, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Byford for the timeliness of this debate. It was earlier this year that the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, issued his Foresight report. I will certainly say something about that in due course; it is very important that we cover that subject. Since noble Lords have ranged far and wide over the course of this debate, I will cover, albeit briefly, several of the subjects that have come up before I move on to the Foresight report. A whole range of different subjects, all of which are connected, have come up.
I start with water quality. Noble Lords have ranged from Essex, where my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith lives and which is very dry, to Northern Ireland, which can be very wet. There is a range of water problems within England, but we also face a range of water problems worldwide. For that reason, it was right of my noble friend Lady Byford to talk about the problem of our imports of embedded water—that is, the amount of water that we in effect consume when we import salad crops or cotton in our shirts. My noble friend referred to the report from the University of East Anglia. I am not aware of it, so I cannot confirm or deny the figure it gave, but we use the WWF figure of 46.4 billion cubic metres of water imported in agricultural products. That is about 45 per cent of the UK’s total water use, embedded or otherwise. It is a fairly horrific figure which we should take into account in any decisions we make on these matters. I was grateful to other speakers, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who talked about the problems of drought that people face worldwide as well as, on occasions, in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, was the first to talk about biotechnology and GM. He was followed by a great many other speakers, the vast majority of whom—I shall not identify them all—seemed to think that we should be doing more to encourage GM and to persuade our colleagues in Europe to follow a more pro-GM route. The noble Lord quite rightly said that others overseas, such as in the United States, were “bemused” by the EU’s attitude to GM. We believe that decisions here should be taken on the basis of the scientific evidence that is before us, but it is also important—as was touched on by my noble friend Lord Arran—that we take the public with us. There is a degree of public scepticism, although I find it quite extraordinary, particularly so when it seems to be an alliance—dare I say it?—between the Daily Mail and Friends of the Earth, with their use of the expression “Frankenstein crops”. All scientists have a duty to help get the explanation over and to try to push these matters forward. It is important that we take public opinion with us in this matter. That will be important, as others have made clear, if we ever want to feed the extra people in the world during the coming 50 years, with its population likely to increase from 6 billion to 9 billion.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, and my noble friend Lady Miller were all right to talk about problems of waste, particularly in less developed parts of the world—waste that comes from inadequate storage and poor transportation. It was said that something like 40 per cent of food is wasted in those parts of the world, sometimes on its journey from the farm to where it is consumed and sometimes on the farm. Some of the solutions to these problems, as many people have pointed out, are very low-tech and simple, such as improving storage in green silos—indeed, simply to keep the rats out. That should be looked at. For that reason, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, was again right to say that these are matters not just for Defra; they should also be considered across government because they affect DfID and all those, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will be aware, in the aid world.
My noble friend Lady Miller was right to talk also about the problems of food waste in this country. Where local authorities are persuaded to collect food waste and provide buckets for people to put it into, we see a reduction in the amount of food waste as people become aware of just how much they are throwing out. If we can collect our food waste in the right manner, it is right that we look at anaerobic digestion as a means of disposing of it—I shall say a bit more about AD in due course. I was grateful to my noble friend for stressing that it is far better to prevent waste than to have it to dispose of in the first place.
Supermarkets get knocked quite a lot, but they have quite a low level of waste. However, because they get through so much food, that very small percentage can seem quite a large amount. Although some of that waste will have to be disposed of by means of AD and other such methods, there are other ways of doing it. I refer my noble friend to a very worthy charity called FareShare, which takes food that supermarkets cannot use but is still perfectly viable and has not reached its sell-by or use-by date and sends it off for charitable purposes. If my noble friend wishes to know more about that, I shall certainly make her aware of it in due course.
Noble Lords expressed great concern about supermarkets’ buying behaviour and demanded to hear more about the grocery code adjudicator. However, before we knock the supermarkets too much, we should always remember what they deliver. They deliver cheap food to a very high standard and in very great variety, and we should be grateful for what they provide. However, I accept that, within the food chain, there are many people who feel that they have been badly treated by the supermarkets. For that reason we accept that there is a need for a grocery code adjudicator. I can therefore assure all noble Lords who asked about this, especially my noble friend Lord Arran, who seems to be particularly well informed, that we are close to publishing a draft Bill, which will emerge from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I cannot give a precise date, but, for those who have been in government, I will say that it will be published shortly or very soon—that is an expression that I think most Members of the House will recognise.
I promised to return to AD when I was talking about waste. This was first raised by my noble friend Lord Plumb, who thought that we were making some progress on waste and that there was a need for more anaerobic digestion. I agree with him that anaerobic digestion is a very good way of dealing with a certain amount of farm waste and one often needs some crops, but not many, to go into it. However, I stress that the Government are very keen that we do not go down what I would call the German route, where there has been excessive growing of crops, particularly maize, purely to feed into on-farm anaerobic digesters. We do not see that as a great use of land; we would prefer for that land to be used for growing food.
Perhaps I may make just one point about the virtues of anaerobic digestion from my personal experience of visiting a number of digesters. One that I visited recently when it opened in east Yorkshire in effect provides free products from its digestates. Not only is it producing energy and saving that waste from going to landfill but it is also producing a solid, manure-type material from the digestate. It is also producing a concentrated liquid digestate that could be put on to the land or used in farms and, importantly in terms of other concerns raised earlier, clean water that could be used for crop irrigation. So there are great many things that can be produced from anaerobic digestion, which can be a very useful way of diverting waste from landfill.
The right reverend Prelate raised the problems of getting into farming. I recognise his concerns about the county farms, which came up a few weeks ago in Questions in this House. I make it quite clear that it is a matter for the local authorities and county councils that own those farms as to whether they sell them. We have no powers under existing legislation to prevent that. Again, one should be wary of implying that county farms are an effective ladder in terms of assisting people into farming. It seems that those who go into county farms tend to stay there instead of moving on. Therefore, they can be a blockage in the system.
Moving on to the importance of biodiversity, we all recognise that we have to increase food production and try to improve the biodiversity of the land that we farm. The point raised by my noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Selborne is that we need to do that while improving production. My noble friend Lady Miller talked about the problem of farmland birds and said that the numbers were still declining even after the number of years that we have had various agri-environment schemes that allegedly help increase numbers. When you look at land management practices and some of the research about what can be done—and there is possibly a case for further tweaking of these agri-environment schemes—we should be able to do something to increase the numbers of farmland birds. Again, as was made clear, they are a crucial indicator of what is going on in terms of the biodiversity of the land that is farmed and our land mass as a whole.
My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned the Taylor review. I discussed this only recently with colleagues in the department and also with my noble friend Lord Taylor himself, who was the author of that review. I assure my noble friend Lady Byford that we will be progressing it further. If she goes to the Defra website she should be able to find out exactly what is happening. A grid shows exactly how the different recommendations in that review are being progressed as is appropriate.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury mentioned poultry. He was right to say that we in the UK have been fully compliant with the changes that were made to cages at considerable cost to the producers. There is a worry that there will be an import of eggs in large numbers from countries that have been less compliant. We strongly urge the Commission to put sufficient enforcement measures in place to protect compliant producers if other countries do not meet the 2012 deadline. We would favour a time-limited intracommunity trade ban. We have suggested that opportunity to the Commission to prevent member states that still have conventional cages from selling their eggs outside of their borders. That is one of the enforcement options that is being considered by the Commission. I will let my noble friend know if further developments take place in due course.
My noble friend Lord Arran raised the question of bovine TB. I agree that it is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses. Last year, something of the order of 25,000 cattle in England were slaughtered because of it. We will announce a comprehensive and balanced TB eradication programme for England by July. This will include whether the Government intend to proceed with the proposed badger control policy, which we consulted on at the end of last year. My noble friend is fully aware that this is a difficult and sensitive issue and it is important to take the time to make sure we get our approach right. Many people, whatever decision we make, will consider that we have made the wrong plan.
I turn now to the amount of money spent on research. I agree with all noble Lords that this is an important matter. It is important that we do what we can through R&D. I can give an assurance that the Government spend £365 million a year on food and farming research. Defra and BBSRC are the main funders, but there is also an indicative budget allocation for global food security in the BBSRC’s delivery plan of some £104 million per annum in the next four financial years.
Sir John Beddington’s report, The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability, was published in January this year. The report identifies the scale of the challenge posed by global food security. Put simply, the global food system is consuming the world’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate.
The Foresight report highlights the vulnerability of the global food system to: population growth, which as I stressed earlier is likely to reach 9 million by 2050; changes in per capita demand for food as populations become wealthier and are likely to want more meat; governance of the food system both nationally and internationally; climate change, which we touched on earlier; competition for key resources such as land—as my noble friend Lord Selborne reminded us, they are not making it any more—energy and water; and the ethical stance of consumers, particularly around the new technologies of GM, cloning and organic farming and production methods, sustainability and biodiversity.
The report also discusses the problems caused by recent increases in the volatility of food prices—an issue that is now being studied by the G20 under France’s presidency. As my noble friend Lord Plumb made clear, volatile prices cause problems for producer and consumer alike. In particular, they make it difficult for farmers to plan the investment needed to increase capacity and competitiveness in order to cope with the challenges of growing more food with less impact on the environment. In the G20, Agriculture Ministers will be looking at ways of helping this situation.
The report concludes that if we are to be able to continue to feed the world’s population, doing nothing is not an option. Put simply, we must act now and grow more food at less cost to the environment. The report recognises that the farming and food industry in the UK contributes positively to the transition to a green economy by increasing sustainability, seizing opportunities and providing innovative solutions for the future. We should all be grateful to the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser for that report. Again, I am grateful to all noble Lords, and in particular my noble friend Lady Byford, for their contributions.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which reflected the enormity of the challenge that we face—not just within the UK but globally. I am very grateful for the variety of contributions that we received. As my noble friend has just said, the report warns that doing nothing is not an option. That was the thing that struck me straightaway. Another thing that struck me was the huge urgency of this. The sad thing is that while we have food on our shelves 24 hours a day, people do not stop and think that it may not always be there. Clearly, the Foresight report draws to our attention the challenges that are coming with coping with greater numbers of people.
Many noble Lords spoke about GM technology. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for saying that it is nothing new. It is not, but for some reason the general public people think that it is new and it is bad news. In fact, it is an extension of what has happened over the years as we have managed to increase yields. Our continued care for water and soil quality is the most important thing we can do. It is of huge import for the future.
Volatility was mentioned, particularly in terms of the cost of imports. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury talked about the egg industry. At the age of 16 that was the profession I wanted to go into. The problem was raised with me only this week by one of our big suppliers of eggs. He said that he could not get GM-free feed and how difficult the problem is—not only the expense, but in getting hold of it. It is something that the debate has highlighted, which is well worth while.
I again thank noble Lords for participating in the debate. I also take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for the work that she did when she was in another place and was an Agriculture Minister. We are grateful for the way she has done her work and led for the Opposition in this House. My sincere thanks go to everybody for enabling this debate to take place. I wish it would go across all government departments to say, “Wake up, there is a huge challenge ahead”. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.