Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:51 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 3:51 pm, 31st March 2022

Exactly. The hon. Gentleman said that the end point he wanted to get to was the removal of subsidies and to leave everything to market forces. We know there is a need for subsidies—about 60% of farmers’ incomes depend on subsidies. His end point is so far into the future that to have it as an underlying policy objective is not a great idea. I do not agree with him on trade, but I will come to that later. I do not agree with him that the sugar tax or action on obesity would have the impact that he suggests, because we know from the soft drinks levy that what it has led to is the reformulation of products and people choosing to buy other products. If it works, people will not pay more because they will change their diets accordingly.

On game meat, a study that has just been released from Cambridge University showed that 99.5% of pheasants killed contained lead shot. I hope the Government will look at that figure with a view to banning lead shot. I certainly would not want to see that being served in our hospitals. However, all that has taken up more time than I had hoped, but I can never resist.

The impact of the rise in the cost of living and the absolutely desperate situation in which many people find themselves is a really important debate to be had, but I want to talk about food sovereignty and what we grow in this country. According to the national food strategy, we are about 77% self-sufficient in food that we can grow in this country—64% self-sufficient overall. Importing more food, changing diets and eating more exotic foods is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember when spaghetti was considered exotic in the 1970s. It is good that we have far more varied diets and that we can buy fruit and veg out of season, but there is a point at which declining food sovereignty starts to have a significant impact on food security and our vulnerability to global food shocks is exposed. We have heard about Ukraine and Brexit, and we all remember the empty shelves and rotting food caused by trucks getting stuck at borders earlier this year. There is also the ever-present threat of climate change and the impact that it could have on future harvests.

A national food strategy recommendation is that we should have reports to Parliament on food security every year rather than every three years, as specified by the Agriculture Act 2020. Given the vulnerabilities that we have spoken about, it is really important that we do that so that there can be a quicker response. I would also be interested to know whether there is a target to increase food sovereignty in this country and for us to grow more, as several Members have said. That should absolutely be a goal of our policy. Instead, what we seem to have underpinning the policy is an almost desperate touting of ourselves around the world as we try to secure trade deals, which would have the impact of not just lowering food standards in this country but undermining our farmers and, in some cases, putting them out of business—particularly if the hon. Member for Buckingham has his way—further down the line.