A “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development” exposed
In Farming UK, Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy – a Lancashire hill farmer before becoming an academic and establishing himself as a leading expert on food issues – has said that leaving the EU will expose a “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development.”
Stephen Devlin, an economist with the New Economics Foundation, says, “Now more than ever, with enormous economic and political uncertainties in the air, we need to consciously plan the future of the essential food and farming sector.
“Do we want a sector that is increasingly automated and concentrated, or do we want more diverse growing patterns and more farming jobs?”
A just-in-time food system that could easily be dislocated
Professor Lang told Farming UK that, in the 1980s, the United Kingdom was 82% self-sufficient in food. This had fallen to 61%. The country was running a food trade gap and the fall in the value of sterling since the EU referendum had made imports more expensive.
Over the last 30 to 40 years a food revolution had resulted in a longer food chain and longer storage. Tesco had adopted its just-in-time system from Toyota. At any one time under this just-in-time system there were just three to five days of food supplies in the UK. “It is highly dislocatable,” said Professor Lang.
He said the UK food system was one in which the farmer made very little from the total money generated. All the money is made elsewhere
Lang said food traders ruled the modern food economy and millions of food contracts depended on cross continental supply chains. The food system was heavily tied into Europe. To sever this would be a task “awesome and unprecedented in complexity.”
In an article currently inaccessible on NEF’s website, Stephen Devlin presents a chart showing net EU food imports.
He adds: “It’s crucial that we don’t just blindly increase production in general to produce more of the commodities that we are already exporting, like cereals and milk. Instead we need to produce a more diverse range of produce more in line with what we actually eat – like more fruit and vegetables. In fact, a more diverse farming system may also have environmental benefits”.