A great deal of consideration and Government support has taken place in response to the rise in energy prices, exacerbated by our reliance on international markets and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Considerable food inflation has also taken place, with less discussion on its impacts despite 18% of households reporting food insecurity in the last month alone. Between September 2021 and 2022, the price of the lowest-costing products has meant pasta is up by 59.9%, tea 46% tea, bread 37%, and milk has increased by 29.4%. In 2019/20 the average UK household spent 10.8% of their total income on food and non-alcoholic drink per year. This figure is even higher for the lowest 20% income households, who spend 14. %.
On 27 October I participated in a debate in the House of Commons on the National food strategy and food security, highlighting the need for a long-term sustainable food policy to grow and process more of our food to keep costs down. It was one of the few debates I have attended where largely the entire House, across parties, seemed to agree.
In the 1980s, our self-sufficiency in food was 75%; it has now fallen to only 60%. Instead of importing vast amounts, we should be supporting local farmers and suppliers, from Cotswold’s wine to the Hertfordshire-based company that makes charcuterie products from free-range British pork and beef. We should be encouraging innovative British companies rather than relying on imports, especially when more than two-thirds come from nations with worse environmental impact standards.
In the last year, I have been active in calling on Government to look at the Environmental Land Management Scheme offering to farmers, I first called a debate on the subject at the beginning of the year. There is an example of a 2,000-acre good-quality arable farm in Essex that formerly grew wheat, barley, rape, and field beans which has been encouraged to put all its land down to grass under the countryside stewardship scheme. There is, of course, a need for environmental schemes, in my time I have personally planted thousands of trees, but we should be using some of our poorer land for such schemes, not using grade 1 or 2 land. The UK has some of the most beautiful countryside and rivers in the world, which we carefully need to protect, alongside a strategy to grow more of the food that we need.
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