Anthony Mangnall meets Country Land and Business Association (CLA) farmers in the kIngsbridge area

MP Anthony Mangnall: We must support farmers to look after their land - and to produce high-quality food

Torbay Weekly

Governments of every political colour are particularly good at putting things ‘out for consultation’.

There is rightly a strong degree of scepticism when a Minister of the Crown responds with these words.

It is viewed as code for a subject or issue being kicked into the long grass.

However, a Government that does not consult might very well be accused of not listening.

Consultations are an important part of the process and offer a moment for experts, stakeholders and interested parties to provide their viewpoints and help shape the policy or potential piece of legislation.

Frustrating though it might be, they are more often than not, necessary.

The National Food Strategy Part One, published in July 2020, and The National Food Strategy Part Two, published a year later, are two sizeable texts that detail the problems we have around food in the UK.

While lengthy, they are worth every reader’s time as they address the overlooked and undervalued elements of the UK’s food production network and how we utilise it.

Last week, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded, at least in part, to the National Food Strategy Report with their own Government Food Strategy.

Without the artistic flourish, nor the readability or the length, the Government’s response leaves a great deal to be desired.

Of course, further responses will be produced and strategies here and there will provide further direction.

But it is important not to write it off completely.

There are several measures included that will help address many of the concerns that MPs, farmers and fishermen across the South West have been raising.

For instance, this autumn, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs will have to come before Parliament to detail the UK’s food security levels.

At present, it is estimated that we have total food security between 52-60 per cent.

We rely on 48 per cent of food being imported according to the most recent data.

With global supply chains operating on shaky foundations, a war in Ukraine disrupting oil and gas flow,s and halting Agri exports from a global producer, it is necessary for us to turn our attention to how and what we produce in the UK and that we set a new national target for UK food security.

I, with colleagues, have called for a national food security target of 75 per cent.

In doing so we can support farmers, not just to look after their land, but to produce high-quality food.

This new strategy firmly entrenches the point that ‘public money for public good’ now includes producing food.

A response to the Secretary of State’s report in the autumn with a new national target would not only provide the necessary direction of travel but the impetus for us meet this new objective.

The scaling up of our food production in the UK will help to ensure that we can supply more local food into our local supply chains.

The forthcoming Procurement Bill offers the opportunity to shorten supply chains, ensuring nearby producers can sell to schools, hospitals and supermarkets.

It should be a cause for concern that our local supermarkets don’t stock fish from Brixham or meat from the moorlands.

All too often, we are using faceless middlemen to supply our food rather than taking advantage of what is on our doorstep.

Controversial as it might be to suggest, we need to adopt a French approach of always going local first.

Third, the export opportunities of our trade deals are there to be taken. We have, to date, only heard criticism of the import impacts.

While there will be competition, we have new realms to which we can send our world-class products, once we have met our food security target.

We should be in no doubt that British produce continues to be seen as top quality.

Providing for those export markets will only continue to sustain our high standards and enhance production.

Having domestic security and utilising what we can do on our land and sea will be essential in this new era of fragility and tension.

We would do well to take advantage of it.