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Brexit: Food Security

Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2018


Tabled by

I beg leave to ask the Question in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who has been detained on other business.

My Lords, Defra regularly assesses the security of food supply and has well-established relationships with industry on supply chain resilience. The UK has a high degree of food security, as shown by the UK Food Security Assessment. This is built on access to diverse sources of supply, including our domestic production. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Consumers will continue to have a wide choice of food after we leave the EU.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. We used to think that the expansion of food production in Britain was in the national interest, but UK self-sufficiency in food has declined steadily for more than 30 years, with only about 62% of food produced by British farmers. Given the environmental impact of importing food, how will the Government gain political, economic and environmental benefits in terms of food after Brexit?

Obviously, your Lordships are awaiting the arrival of the Agriculture Bill in this House. We currently have a production-to-supply ratio of 60% for all food and 75% for indigenous-type foods. We certainly want self-reliant agriculture; it is essential that we produce food sustainably both at home and abroad. That is why we are working with technology and increasing productivity to increase our production at home and abroad.

My Lords, the cost of the Government’s “eatwell plate” for a healthy diet is already completely unaffordable for the poorest 20% of our population. What measures do the Government have in place so that, if prices go up after Brexit, we do not make a bad situation worse? Does the Minister agree that it is shocking that in this morning’s meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee, not one of the four Ministers present has responsibility for hunger in the UK? The Ministers represented the Cabinet Office, DfID, Defra and the DWP.

That is why £95 billion a year is spent on working-age welfare benefits, for instance. It is absolutely essential that we have good food standards—that is, healthy and affordable food. I agree that it is important that the Government keep these matters under review, which is why part of the assessment covers the very points drawn out by the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the UK sources 30% of its food from the EU and a further 11% from deals negotiated by the EU. Does the Minister accept that whatever the outcome of negotiations, the UK will be obliged to conduct more border checks on food supplies than is currently the case? Can he say with confidence that sufficient border staff, vets and food safety inspectors have been recruited to ensure that there are no delays and therefore no further food shortages as a result of a no-deal Brexit?

My Lords, there will not be food shortages because of Brexit. Our food industry in this country is very sophisticated, with plenty of experience and mechanisms around the world to source foods. I am surprised by the noble Baroness’s question. In truth, that is why we have, and are recorded to have, this resilience in food supply. We will not have food shortages. We already produce a very large amount of food; the rest of our food will come from sources around the world.

My Lords, at the Mayor of London’s Food Board, we produced a strategy for sustainable food for London; I wonder whether the Government would like a copy of it. Frankly, the idea that we will have American produce that none of us wants to eat is horrifying to most of us. Would the Minister like a copy of that sustainable strategy?

I am always interested in any material the noble Baroness wishes to supply me with, but all of the standards—whether on chlorinated chicken or hormone-induced beef—are already in the EU withdrawal Bill. All these things are on our statute books, so the idea that we are going to start trade arrangements which compromise the very high standards we have in this country will not take place.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the board of WRAP, which has helped considerably to reduce the amount of good food thrown away in this country. I remind the noble Lord we are signatories to the SDGs, and SDG 12 commits us to halving our food waste by 2030. May I ask my noble friend the Minister how he thinks we might be able to do that?

There are a number of ways in which we must address food waste. Each household is wasting a huge amount of food, on average something like £700 a year. The Government have set up a pilot scheme which they are supporting with £15 million of additional funding. This is because already 43,000 tonnes of surplus food is redistributed from retailers and food manufactures every year. We think a further 100,000 tonnes of food, equating to 250 million meals a year, is edible and should be redistributed. Wasting food is an unconscionable thing, and we want this pilot scheme to work in order to reduce it.

My Lords, would it not be possible for the Government to set themselves a target bracket of nutritional self-sufficiency which ensures we are neither too dependent on imports nor, at the other end of the scale, too dependent on our own productive capabilities and our own unpredictable weather? Such a bracket would be very useful as a target for the Government.

I think there is a distinction between food security and self-sufficiency. Clearly, given the weather in our country, and indeed disease, I think the most important thing is that we have a wide range of sources for food, because that is how we will get food security. With 75% of indigenous-type foods produced in this country, we produce excellent food and drink—it is one of the largest sectors—and we should be proud of it, and of course I encourage the consumption of British food and drink.