The Scottish Farmer | 23 February 2023
Batters tells NFU conference to call for action on food supply
By John Sleigh
The NFU England and Wales annual conference opened with a stark warning by its president, Minette Batters, that the ‘clock was ticking’ to commit to food security in the UK.
As retailers across the UK debated rationing fruit and vegetables, the Wiltshire farmer demanded the UK Government ‘start putting meaningful, tangible and effective meat on the bones of the commitments it had made.’
Addressing a packed audience in Birmingham, she reminded everyone that input costs had jumped 50%, posing a threat to domestic food security and supply. The tenant farmer painted a desperate picture of UK agriculture, with the lowest egg production in nine years, salad production back at levels not witnessed since the 1980s and many beef and sheep farmers filling in surveys stating they plan to reduce numbers.
This was all being pushed by market volatility, policy uncertainty and business instability, but on a brighter note, she added: “Despite the challenges, NFU members and the farmers and growers of Britain continue to bring in the harvest, to produce the nation’s food and to keep the country fed through tough times.”
Before setting out the union’s vision based on the three cornerstones of boosting productivity, protecting the environment and managing volatility. She also recognised the challenges from the supply chain and stated she wanted food to remain affordable.
But affordable food would not need to all be imported, according to Ms Batters, who demanded that ‘the rhetoric of successive governments that as a wealthy country we can just import our food must be exposed as naïve in the extreme in a rapidly changing and challenging world’.
She raised concerns on the cumulative impact of the two trade deals sign with New Zealand and Australia, signposting problems for beef, sheep meat and sugar. The focus would now be on the current negotiations with Canada and Mexico, both members of CPTPP (the regional Trans-Pacific Partnership) which the UK is hoping to join this year.
Delegates also heard her concern for the future of the Grocery Code Adjudicator (GCA) and its role in policing compliance with the grocery code and in holding retailers to account. She warned that merging it into the Competition and Markets Authority would dilute its power and effectiveness.
Instead, Ms Batters wanted to see the GCA’s powers expanded. In no mood to let up pressure on government, she also planned to hold the Prime Minister to account for his promise of an annual food resilience round table and ’it must be more than just a talking shop,’ she argued.