A massive four in five British shoppers think food should only be imported if it meets UK animal welfare and environmental standards, new research has found.
Abi Kay and Lauren Dean report...
A ComRes survey of more than 2,000 British adults, commissioned by the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ) and carried out in September, found 84 per cent of the public want food imports to match UK standards, with just 16 per cent saying they would buy products they knew were produced to lower standards.
Younger people, however, were more likely to purchase lower standard food if it was cheap. While 45 per cent of 18-34 year-olds said they would not do so, this figure rose to 61 per cent among the over-55s.
TFA chief executive George Dunn said: “The Government should pay close attention to the 84 per cent of those surveyed who want to be assured the same standards which apply to food produced in the UK are also imposed on imported products.”
But he added he was ‘concerned’ to see younger respondents were less inclined to agree imports should meet domestic standards.
“While still in excess of 70 per cent, that is some way below the overall average of 85 per cent,” he said.
“This is surprising, given the extent to which young people appear to be more switched on about environmental and animal welfare considerations than their older counterparts.”
The survey also found the public strongly backs the idea of supporting British farmers with taxpayer cash to ensure a continued supply of domestically-produced food, with 62 per cent agreeing this was necessary.
NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “At a time when our industry appears to come in for an increasing amount of criticism, leaving many farmers feeling considerably underappreciated, the findings of this poll make for welcome reading.
“It is particularly pleasing to see 62 per cent of respondents believe farmers should receive support from the tax payer to ensure the continued supply of safe, nutritious, high-quality and affordable food post-Brexit.
“This is welcome recognition of the integral role farmers play in food security terms.”
FUW president Glyn Roberts agreed, pointing out the survey sent a ‘clear message’ that the public wants to support farmers as food producers, as well as custodians of the environment.
Richard Heady, an arable, beef and sheep farmer from Buckinghamshire, said he was ‘stunned’ that a majority of the public wanted Government payments to be provided to boost food security.
“This suggests to me people value their British food supplies more than I ever would have believed,” he added.
Professor of Food Policy at the University of London, Tim Lang, said: “An overwhelming 84 per cent want imported food to be of the same standard as home produced food. Gung-ho supporters of yoking the UK to the USA post Brexit should note this.
“The survey suggests the UK public almost certainly recognises the need for UK farming to tick lots of boxes. It has got the message that farming is multi-functional. But have the politicians?”
BGAJ president Baroness Rosie Boycott added: It is the responsibility of Government and the entire supply chain to put the safeguards in place to protect both British farmers and the consumer, whose heads may still be turned by attractive price deals in tough economic conditions, despite how they have responded.”
Taking pride in the countryside
There was more good news for farmers in the survey, with 79 per cent of respondents saying they were ‘proud’ of the British countryside and the rural communities who sustain it.
There were similar levels of support on this from urban and rural participants – 77 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.
Mr Dunn said: “In light of recent and unwarranted anti-farming media stories, it is encouraging to see nearly 80 per cent of those surveyed were happy to say they were proud of the British countryside and the rural communities which sustain it.”
Kate Daniels, a smallholder in Worcestershire, added the survey results confirmed her suspicion that the public ‘overwhelmingly’ supported British agriculture.
She said: “This is far from the impression we get from the British media, which seems quite disconnected with mainstream views.”
Supply chain unfairness
The survey also showed 36 per cent of the public believe farmers do not receive a fair price for their produce, compared to 24 per cent who think they do.
Mr Roberts said these results proved there was ‘recognition’ of the inequalities in the supply chain among shoppers, while Mr Dunn called on Government to intervene in the market to ensure fairness.
GM and gene editing
Other findings from the research showed one third (34 per cent) of respondents agreed new plant-breeding technologies, such as genetic modification (GM) and gene-editing, should be used to grow crops in the UK.
Those aged 18-24 were more likely to agree with the statement than any other age group.
Mr Heady found the support for GM, especially from young people, ‘really surprising’.
“There could be some exciting opportunities ahead if decision makers listen to the British public,” he said.
But Essex arable farmer George Young said the response to the question was concerning, as it showed young people believed there was ‘always a quick, scientific fix to a problem’.
2,009 British consumers were asked to what extent, if at all, did they agree or disagree with a number of statements.