MPs say government must help food science centres

PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 May 2012

Norwich MP Simon Wright sits on the Environmental Audit Committee.

Norwich MP Simon Wright sits on the Environmental Audit Committee.

Archant copyright 2011

A committee of MPs has called on the government to bring forward more support for research centres and universities like those in Norfolk exploring how the growing world population will be fed.

Members of the Environmental Audit Committee said successive governments had exerted less influence over where and how research into agricultural and food science had been carried out.

But they highlighted that the field of study would be crucial as the world’s population burgeoned, meaning urgent action was required to ensure the UK, let alone the rest of the world, had enough food in the future.

Their report read: “We do not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices. Relying on markets to identify and to direct where this research is needed, and on sufficient scale, is likely to fail.

“The government must be prepared to intervene with universities, colleges and the research councils to develop incentives for them to train more agricultural and food scientists.”

Norfolk has established itself as an international hub for life sciences, boasting renowned organisations like the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research.

The Norwich Research Park, where both are based, secured a £26m boost in this year’s budget from chancellor George Osborne to provide jobs and carry out further research.

But yesterday’s select committee report demanded that government explicitly recognise the need for yet more research in several specific areas.

These included studying the impact of food production practices on the environment to allow it to be increased in a sustainable way, soil science and the benefits of new farming practices.

Liberal Democrat Norwich South MP Simon Wright, a committee member, told the EDP: “One of the greatest challenges for the future is about how we provide food for a growing population.

“There are seven billion people living in the world right now and that is expected to go up to over nine billion by 2050. At the same time the affect of climate change is going to have a huge impact on food security.

“In Norwich and Norfolk we have a really important role to play as we have internationally renowned institutions that are already doing excellent work on how we might meet that challenge.”

But Mr Wright explained that the report aimed to make the government see that the UK’s research capacity would have to be increased further.

It also made recommendations designed to encourage people to become more aware of the need to eat healthily and how to grow their own food, including saying cooking and gardening should be taught in schools.

Ministers should also consider imposing stricter limits to protect children from junk food advertising, including online where the report claimed youngsters were targeted by unhealthy brands.

Meanwhile the committee added that new planning guidance should be used to ensure communities had access to land to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

The committee’s chairwoman Joan Walley said: “Our food system is failing. Obesity and diet related illness is on the increase, fewer young people are being taught how to cook or grow food, and advertisers are targeting kids with junk food ads on the internet.

“At the same time the world faces growing fears about food security as the global population increases, more people eat meat and dairy, and the climate destabilises as a result of forest destruction and fossil fuel use.

“The Government is understandably sceptical about anything that seems like nanny-statism, but the evidence is clear; intervention is needed to tackle obesity and fix our food system.”

The government is now bound to respond to the report though they are not obliged to accept its recommendations.

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