Defra’s former chief scientist Professor Ian Boyd has called on Government to spend as much on food research as it does on health research.
Prof Boyd said food was so important to humanity, and so interlinked with public health, that the budgets should be the same.
At the moment, the UK’s food research spend stands at less than 10 per cent of the heath research budget.
According to Prof Boyd, the money should be spent on research on three transformative technologies – genetics, robotics and process engineering – in order to boost UK agriculture’s productivity.
“My view is we need to be perhaps five times more productive by the middle of the century than we are now,” he told attendees of the summit.
“There is an underlying rationale for that about reducing fossil fuel consumption, but also about making the farming system at least as resource efficient as the other major industrial sectors.
“At the moment, it is four to five times less resource efficient than the other least resource efficient industrial sectors.”
Prof Boyd said he had argued for greater investment in research during his time in Government, but he ‘did not have control of the purse strings’.
He also claimed Ministers had not been ‘thinking strategically’ about the food system and the need to increase agricultural productivity for years.
“I do find this slightly frustrating,” he said.
“We have been in a mode of thinking that an incremental improvement of a few per cent per annum based on research is enough to keep the food system running.
“It is a good thing to do, but it is not enough, and I do not think we have really thought strategically about food.”