Moving the UK towards self-sufficiency in food will undermine the country’s ability to bounce back from future shocks, a University of Leeds academic has claimed.
Fiona Smith, professor of international economic law, said the idea of self-sufficiency was ‘hot on the agenda’ in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and there would be more flexibility to push in that direction after Brexit, but warned such a move could undermine food security.
Last month, another professor, Tim Lang, from City, University of London, called on the Government to introduce a target for the UK to be 80 per cent self-sufficient in food in order to improve resilience in the UK’s food system.
Different models calculate the UK’s current self-sufficiency in different ways, with estimates of between 61 per cent and 53 per cent.
But in 2019, HSBC analysts asserted that 80 per cent of the UK’s food was imported, and claimed the lower figures were reached by classing food processed domestically as UK food, even if the ingredients were imported.
Speaking to MPs on the International Trade Select Committee last week (April 30), Prof Smith said: “One of the things we have to remember is although we are enjoying very nice weather now, at the beginning of the year we had quite severe floods, which have affected the potato harvest, and certainly the water quantity in grain this year is not going to be that good, so we might have to import flour.
“It is probably going to be challenging to stay resilient with a completely local food chain, though obviously at times like this there are really positive reasons why you would want to do that, before we get into quality of food and safety.”
Professor Bob Doherty from the University of York, who was also giving evidence to the committee, said there may be potential to grow more produce in the UK, but the Government would need a ‘proper strategy’ to do it.
“If you go back to 1988, even then we were importing 34 per cent of our food,” he told MPs.
“We have always been a nation which has traded to increase consumer choice. There are a lot of products we cannot grow here, such as bananas, Britain’s favourite fruit.
“There are good reasons – geographical reasons, price reasons and growing reasons why we have this international system.”