“We need to ensure the consumer really is king.”
– TORY AGRICULTURE CRITIC NICK HERBERT
Consumer power must bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold, with healthier food delivering a smaller environmental impact a top priority, according to Britain’s Farm Minister Hilary Benn.
Benn, unveiling a new government strategy, said producers and retailers would follow consumer demands as they did with the rapid expansion of free-range eggs over the last decade.
“We know that the consequences of the way we produce and consume our food are unsustainable to our planet and to ourselves,” Benn told the Oxford Farming Conference on Jan. 5.
The strategy, Food 2030, sets out the challenges facing Britain in maintaining a secure food supply at a time of rapid population growth and climate change.
“Food security is as important to this country’s future well-being – and the world’s – as energy security,” Benn said.
“We know we are at one of those moments in our history where the future of our economy, our environment, and our society will be shaped by the choices we make now,” he added.
Benn told BBC Radio three things needed to be done.
“We have got to produce more food; secondly we have got to do it sustainably and thirdly we have got to make sure the food we eat safeguards our health,” he said.
Benn told the Oxford conference producers and retailers would respond to consumer demands for food that is local, healthy and has been produced with a smaller environmental footprint.
“A decade ago, only 16 per cent of eggs produced in the U. K. were free range. In the last 10 years that’s more than doubled to just under 40 per cent,” Benn said.
“And with the U. K. 80 per cent self-sufficient in free-range eggs this is a great example of how our farmers have responded to what consumers want, to the benefit of both.”
He also said that government and food businesses needed to support consumers by providing more accurate information about the origin and nutritional content of the food they buy.
“We do want to know about where and how our food was produced,” he said.
Nick Herbert, shadow minister for farming and environment for the opposition Conservative party, told the conference he welcomed the government’s “belated” recognition of the importance of increasing food production in Britain.
He noted, however, that food production in Britain had fallen during the last decade.
Britain is widely expected to hold a general election in early May and the opposition Conservatives are favourites to end 13 years of rule by the Labour party.
Herbert said government support for agriculture would not mean increasing spending but rather ensuring there was a fair market which worked in everyone’s interest.
He said “honest” labelling was very important, adding consumers had been misled by meat imports from other countries being passed off as British.
“We need to ensure the consumer really is king,” he said. He also backed calls for a supermarket ombudsman, a
measure proposed by the Competition Commission after complaints from groups such as the National Farmers Union that retailers hold too much market power.