Food Prices and Food Poverty

Part of Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:50 pm, 23rd January 2012

That is a shame, Madam Deputy Speaker, because there is a long list of things relevant to household budgets; there was a wider definition of that earlier. Freezing council tax is but one example of what frees up the budget to buy more food.

Last year, the Government’s Foresight report on the future of food and farming concluded that Governments across the world must take action now to ensure that a rising global population can be fed. It is a chilling fact that in only 13 years there will be 1 billion more mouths to feed on this planet. Increasing demand for water, land and energy means that food security is one of the world’s greatest challenges. The report identified five challenges for all nations to act on: balancing future demand and supply; ensuring that there is adequate food price stability and protecting the most vulnerable from volatility; achieving global access to food and ending hunger; managing the contribution of the food system to mitigating climate change; and maintaining biodiversity in our ecosystems. To take on those challenges, we need international reform. To address global food security, we need an increase in agricultural productivity, which means a move away from subsidy. To address the risk of climate instability disrupting production patterns, we must have open world trading systems.

In June last year, G20 Agriculture Ministers met and agreed to the creation of an agricultural market information system, which aims to stabilise food price volatility through better transparency in the marketplace. In November, I attended the climate change conference and helped the South African Agriculture Minister to get agriculture included in the work stream for the next climate change convention. We are now preparing for Rio plus 20, where we will push for international policies to help the most vulnerable in our society. We will lobby for the sustainable intensification of agriculture, climate-smart agriculture and the reduction of post-harvest losses. The Afghan Minister whom I met in Berlin this weekend at green week said that the reduction of harvest losses would make one of the greatest contributions to combating famine.

The challenges present an opportunity for the UK, and we need to be the first out of the blocks and embrace it. British food producers must make the most of international markets. That is why I have announced that I will publish an action plan at the end of the month to help export the best of British food and drink across the world. It is through global trade that the UK can secure its future food supply and help keep food prices down. We already contribute to global food supply. We provide 2% of global wheat exports, 4% of global barley exports and 1% of global cereal exports. That demonstrates that the UK has a major role in food production. By expanding production and exports, we can contribute to the overall economic recovery.

The food and farming industry is a high performer with great potential. The food chain contributes £88 billion per annum to the economy, which is 7% of GDP. It is responsible for 3.7 million jobs. The Government are acting across the food chain to stimulate growth, facilitate international trade and drive fair competition, because a thriving and competitive economy, where our products are freely traded on an international market, will deliver resilient, stable and affordable food supplies to our consumers.

The Government are working with industry and environmental partners to see how we can reconcile our goals of improving environmental protection and increasing food production. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wakefield for welcoming the green food project. The Government are spending £400 million on food and farming research, which addresses productivity, environmental performance and resilience along the food chain.

Nobody is under any illusion about the pressures that high food prices put on all our constituents. However, it would be wrong to pretend that there is a “silver bullet” solution when there is not.