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East Anglia Future 50

Today's the day our food would run out without foreign imports, say farming leaders

PUBLISHED: 14:58 07 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:58 07 August 2018

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Farmers said the UK would run out of food on this day each year without foreign imports – sparking a warning to government to make food security a top Brexit priority.

August 7 marks the notional day in the calendar when our food cupboards would “run bare” if the nation only consumed home-grown British produce from January 1.

The summer heatwave has damaged crop yields and pushed concerns about food production and self-sufficiency into “sharp focus”, warned the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) – along with uncertainties over the possible trade implications of a “no deal” Brexit.

A long-term decline in self-sufficiency, which has stagnated at around 60pc in recent years, means around three quarters of the shortfall is imported from the rest of the EU, said NFU president Minette Batters.

“This has been a real test for government to show the farmers and the many concerned members of the public that they think that our ability to produce food in this country is truly important,” she said.

“We strongly believe that every British citizen should be entitled to a safe, traceable and high-quality supply of British food that is produced to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world.

“Home-grown food production must have the unwavering support of government if we are to achieve this post-Brexit.”

Prime minister Theresa May insisted last month that the public should take “reassurance and comfort” from government preparations for a no-deal Brexit after ministers suggested food and medicines would be stockpiled in case of shortages.

The NFU highlighted figures from Defra that show self-sufficiency levels have hovered at around 60pc for most of the last two decades, compared with up to 75pc in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“The statistics show a concerning long-term decline in the UK’s self-sufficiency in food and there is a lot of potential for this to be reversed,” Ms Batters said.

“And while we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates, if we maximise on the food that we can produce well in the UK then that will deliver a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits to the country.

“The UK farming sector has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit - a free and frictionless free trade deal with the EU and access to a reliable and competent workforce for farm businesses is critical to the future of the sector.

“And as we replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, we must keep a sharp focus on what productive, progressive and profitable farm businesses need from a domestic agricultural policy.”

A Defra spokesman said: “The UK produces the majority of its own food. However, it is necessary to import some foods as they cannot be grown in the UK, and to ensure an excellent level of food security.”

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