Food Security

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 12th January 2023.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of the UK’s food security.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

What steps she is taking to strengthen domestic food security.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

What steps she is taking to strengthen domestic food security.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The first UK food security report was published in December 2021, which showed that the UK has a highly resilient and diverse food supply chain. We produce 61% of the food we need in the UK, complemented by strong trade links, and that figure has changed little over the last 20 years. We also published the Government food strategy last June, setting out a commitment to maintain broadly the current level of food we produce domestically and boost production in sectors with the biggest opportunities.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

On food security and fish stocks, Newcastle University believes the mass killing of crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans off the north-east coast is due to dredging ahead of the freeport, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has dismissed it as a natural event due to algae bloom and has set up an inquiry, with a secret panel meeting in private, despite the fact that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has asked for an open and transparent inquiry that is done independently. Will the Secretary of State commit to an independent evaluation of the evidence, to protect all our coasts from the massive destruction from toxic emissions ahead of freeports—

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already replied to the DEFRA Committee about this. The impact on crabs is under investigation, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, and it makes no difference to the adequacy of the UK’s food security, which is the topic of this question.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Is it not clear that secure domestic food production requires consistent orders? A huge amount of food is purchased by the public sector, including Government Departments, especially in Defence, hospitals and local government, and especially schools. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that they prioritise buying British? Is it not time to take back control?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think the right hon. Gentleman voted to stay in the European Union, which stopped us promoting British food procurement. However, there is Government policy to encourage that, and I am confident that local authorities, including his, will continue to do so when considering school meals.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

Recent events have shown that we need to pay more attention to how resilient we are across a range of core areas—food, water and energy are the obvious ones. Does the Secretary of State agree that producing our own food is key, but that resilience can also be improved with stronger trading relationships with many more countries, such as Brazil, that are friendly and with which we share history and common values?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is important to recognise that there are many foodstuffs we enjoy that we simply cannot produce in this country; it is simply not physically possible. It is important that we continue to have that world trade. My hon. Friend is the trade envoy to Brazil, which is a very important partner for our Government in agrifood, climate and biodiversity, as I learned on my recent trip there.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest challenges to UK food security is the competing demands for the very land needed to produce the food from housing and commercial organisations and the latest scourge of solar farms? Will she therefore join me in welcoming the increased protections for agricultural land in the consultation on the new national planning policy framework?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know that my hon. Friend made the case strongly during the passage of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in this House and was able to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and secure some changes that are being consulted on. It is critical that we look at the use of land, and that is why we have committed this year to producing a new land use framework, in which the issues he raises are very important.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In December, the Environment Secretary told the Select Committee that she did not believe it was the role of Government to feed people. All of us want to see a country where work pays fairly and, through that work, families can afford to feed themselves, but that is not the case after 13 years of this Tory Government, with food inflation at a 40-year high, a cost of living crisis and 7.3 million people in food poverty. It is the Secretary of State who is responsible for food security. Her Department has a legal obligation to publish the food security report, and it distributes the FareShare food grant. To show she is not completely out of touch, can she tell the House the price of a loaf of bread and the price of a pint of milk in her local supermarket today?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Mr Speaker, it depends on what brand you buy. A pint is 95p, and two pints £1.20. It depends on what type of bread you get, but the last loaf I bought was £1.25 for a seeded one from Tesco—I am sure there are other retailers as well.

It is quite clear to me that the hon. Gentleman probably has not read the food security report published in December 2021. However, I will say that in my time as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions we got more people into work and we provided an exceptional amount of funding through the household support fund, because we recognise that these times are really challenging. That is why we, as a Conservative Government, have made sure that the most vulnerable are protected, and it is why we will continue to do so as we move forward through this challenging time.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Is it not the truth that we have a Secretary of State overseeing a sewage scandal who did not believe that meeting water bosses was a priority; a Secretary of State responsible for food security in a cost of living crisis who does not think it is the Government’s job to make sure people have access to food; and a Secretary of State who has a lead role in climate change who, frankly, is clocking up more air miles than Father Christmas? Even when she is here, she is missing in action. Can she prove that she is finally getting a grip of this? It seems to the public that this Government have given up, have run out of ideas and have no plan, and in the end it is the people of this country who are paying the price. Is not now the time to just stand aside and let Labour get on with cleaning up their mess?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is obviously taking lessons from other people on the Front Bench about talking complete and utter garbage. I could use stronger language, but it would be unparliamentary.

Let us just go back and remind ourselves that there was no monitoring of sewage under the Labour Government; that was introduced under a Conservative Government. That is why we have gone to a situation where we are recording more, and why we are in a position now to be challenging—using the price review we did, using our levers through Ofwat—to open up investment and get the storm overflows discharge reduction plan, so that by the end of this year we will actually have 100% monitoring right across the country. Conservatives do not shy away from problems; we open them up, put a spotlight on them, take action and get stuff done, as opposed to Labour, which just ignored it, did not want to know, looked the other way and now thinks it is all a new issue.

On my being missing in action, far from it: it is the hon. Gentleman. When I came back from Montreal after securing, with many other countries around the world, the global biodiversity framework, where was he for the statement? He was not here. God knows where he was. I then went to represent the United Kingdom at the inauguration of President Lula, and I think it was really important to do so to recognise how critical it is to improve the environment. Frankly, we will carry on to deliver action.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

The National Farmers Union of Scotland is calling on the UK Government to recognise the strategic importance of fertiliser amid a worsening food security crisis and a 200% increase in fertiliser costs. It is vital that more support is given to domestic food production. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the NFUS to discuss supporting domestic fertiliser production and building greater transparency in the market to drive resilience and security?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue, which is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries and I met the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to discuss this particular issue, and why that Secretary of State then took action by requiring information, so we are in active discussions about it. I am afraid I am not in a position to be able to share any more information, given the aspects of commercial sensitivity, but I can assure her that this Government are on the case.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

As well as concerns about fertiliser costs, the Government’s expected classification of farming as a non-high energy business in their review of the energy bill relief scheme is another body blow for farmers. It will inevitably push up inflation for food producers and consumers, worsening the disproportionate cost of living impact on rural communities. What steps will the Secretary of State take to mitigate the impact on farmers and rural businesses right now to help tame global inflationary pressures on domestic markets?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have seen support to industry through this Government, recognising the price of energy, which was beyond the control of individual users. We have recently seen that wholesale prices have fallen to what they were before the illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine. We are trying to get to a situation where we stabilise the support we are giving, focusing particularly on recognised energy-intensive industries such as those represented by Members in the Chamber today.