Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 3:27 pm, 31st March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I always enjoy following Luke Pollard and, increasingly, hearing him rant. He is right on many of the points he raises and he is a fastidious supporter of farming and fishing in his community and across the south-west. I particularly enjoy working with him on this topic. I congratulate Deidre Brock on securing this hugely important debate.

The two things that have really focused people’s minds about food security have been the situation in Ukraine and the pandemic. The scorched-earth tactics being used in Ukraine will have the knock-on impact raised by Jim Shannon. These horrendous global shocks and events are giving us a moment of pause, contemplation and thought as to how we can improve food security in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is absolutely right: there need to be more faces in this Chamber debating this issue. I hope we will see an improvement from the food security report, as set out in the Agriculture Act 2020, that the DEFRA Secretary will present this autumn. Can the Minister confirm that the report will be presented on the Floor of the House of Commons, and that we will have the opportunity to challenge and question it, as well as discuss the lessons that might be learned from it?

Due to the pandemic, for the first time in my generation, we saw empty shelves and the fact that our global supply chains are incredibly fragile. It is important to say that we were not alone in that. I do not necessarily take the view that it was just caused by Brexit—a number of other countries in Europe found themselves in similar situations. However, it emphasised the need for us to act and to act fast, and to consider that we need more at-home production, fewer faceless suppliers and to talk up what we have.

Food of incredible quality comes out of my constituency in south Devon, in the form of fish and shellfish as well as the meat and dairy that is produced. The quality is extraordinary. There is an abundance of food in our seas and on our land. The high quality of what we produce is known across the world. However, we talk it down so often. We have to change that approach; ending that stigma about British food quality should be a top priority for any Member of Parliament and anyone in agriculture.

At the same time, we also have to think about how we introduce the conversation around food and farming in our schools, ensuring that young people can get on to our farms and on to our fishing boats to understand where food comes from, how we produce it and how we can do so in an environmentally responsible way. These things are incredibly important.

There is also the issue of seasonal variety. At the moment, our food security sits at about 65%. Now, whether or not we have a target that pushes us up to 75% or 80% is for Members of this House to discuss, but it is not something that I am inherently against, because at least we can then have the national ambition to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are producing food, so that we can be reassured about our food security.

My fourth point is that we spend a lot of time talking about rewilding. I myself spend a lot of time talking about regenerative agriculture and there is much conversation to be had about the intensification of farming. However, we have to find the balance between rewilding, intensive farming and food productivity. My biggest concern is that the environmental land management scheme that is replacing the basic payment scheme says absolutely nothing about public money for public good being about food production. Can we please update it and make sure that farmers in my constituency know that the new scheme is not only about rewilding and biodiversity, which of course are important, but food production, and that they will be supported in producing food?

Many other points have been made already, but I will just make two more quickly. First, I am always happy to bash supermarkets. They have an enormous responsibility. However, the fact that none of the supermarkets in the area of Brixham, the most valuable fishing port in England, stock any fish from that port is staggering. So we need to use the procurement Bill, when it comes before this House, to ensure that supermarkets are incentivised to buy first from local suppliers, in order to support the local economy and create a circular economy so that our farmers, fishermen, local producers, butchers, bakers and greengrocers can all benefit.

Secondly, I sit on the International Trade Committee and I spend a lot of time scrutinising the trade deals that we are making. I understand the reluctance and the hesitancy around the deals that we are striking, but we are making progress and improving how we conduct the negotiations. The agreement that we have come to with New Zealand is significantly different from our agreement with Australia. The intention for what we want to do in the Gulf also provides the opportunity for British producers to export, which is what our focus should be on. All too often, we talk about the import impact; we should talk about the ability to have an export impact. Our producers can achieve that by scaling up exports, which would benefit all our constituencies.

I respect the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for bringing this issue to the House because it is an important one that needs focusing on, and because I think there is commonality across the House about ensuring that we do better on food security and ensuring that we can help those on the poverty line who use foodbanks by producing more food that is healthier and better for people, including for children in school.

I will leave it at that.