The latest Footprint Forum, entitled Foodservice and Agriculture: Promoting Understanding, organised by Footprint Experience, was held at Farmers and Fletchers Hall in the City of London on 21 September. Headlining the event was Lord Carter of Coles who spoke compellingly about the work of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming and made a plea for input from the foodservice industry.
Lord Carter Coles, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming, in his keynote speech, exclusively told delegates:
As well as creating new sources of wealth from ideas, innovation is essential if we are to cope with climate change, provide better water and food, improve health and education, and produce energy sustainably. It will be essential for our existence on an increasingly crowded planet.
He told the Forum that agriculture has always been open to innovation underlining how farming in the UK has changed in the 60 or so years since the Worshipful Company of Farmers was established in the early 1950s. Wheat yields have increased threefold, livestock production has been steadily intensified, and the food supply chain, from farm to fork, has been completely transformed. But, just as todays news is tomorrows fish-and-chips paper, so the innovations of the past tend to become established practice. New challenges call for new responses.
The House of Lords set up its European Committee in 1974, and we have steadily expanded and intensified our work of scrutiny, operating in more depth than the House of Commons and indeed than many parliaments in other Member States. We know that the institutions in Brussels, and indeed other Member States parliaments, take note of our reports and appreciate the objective and informed basis on which they are prepared.
My own Sub-Committee deals with agriculture, fisheries and environment, largely the preserve of Defra. As you may know, in the UK, Defra is responsible for implementing more European law than any other Government department, around 30 per cent of the total (according to a 2005 report from the National Audit Office). So we have our work cut out, he said.
We intend that our inquiry will shine a light on the possibilities for innovation in EU agriculture, and show how the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and other EU policies can help or hinder the work of implementing those possibilities. I have no doubt that input from those directly involved in farming and foodservice operations will mean that our inquiry will be better informed and that its findings will be all the more influential.
He went on to ask for help from the foodservice industry to advance the inquiry saying there is still time for the industry to contribute its views.
The aim of the inquiry is to build on the EU White Paper, Adapting to Climate Change: Towards a European framework for action, published in 2009, together with an accompanying paper on the challenge for agriculture and rural areas. The inquiry wants to identify how innovation in EU agriculture can be best supported, particularly at a time when factors such as population increase and climate change have greatly impacted the scale of the challenges facing agriculture in the UK, Europe and globally.
Starting in November of last year, my committee carried out an inquiry into the White Paper. We received written comments from a range of organisations, including the European Commission itself, the UK farming unions and COPA/COGECA (the European representative body for farming), the Country Land and Business Association, Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the RSPB and others. And we took oral evidence from representatives of these organisations, as well as witnesses from academic and research institutes. The outcome was the report, which we published at the end of March of this year, called Adapting to climate change: EU agriculture and forestry.
The evidence we took left us in no doubt about the scale of the challenges facing agriculture, in the UK, the EU and globally. The worlds population is expected to increase from 6 billion now to 9 billion by the middle of this century, increasing the demand for food, feed and fibre by an estimated 70 per cent. At the same time, climate change projections suggest that farmers in some parts of Europe notably the Southern EU Member States will struggle to maintain their established agricultural practices, especially as water shortages become more severe.
Even since we published our report, we have seen further dramatic evidence of the impact of extreme weather conditions on agriculture, notably the drought and fires which have destroyed one third of Russias grain crop and which in turn has prompted Russia to ban exports, leading to this years spike in wheat prices.
But are we moving fast enough? asked Lord Carter. Are people aware enough? Water shortages are an absolute disaster. Cyprus now has to have water tankered in: the ground water is gone. Weather is going to become more extreme. We have to ask: how do we get more out of what we have?
The White Paper recognised that most adaptation measures would be taken at national, regional or local level, but said that such measures could be strengthened by an integrated and coordinated approach at EU level. The Commission foresaw a two-stage approach: Phase 1, from 2009 to 2012, would lay the ground work for preparing a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy; Phase 2, from 2013 onwards, would see that strategy implemented.
Lord Carter explained: We see several aspects to innovation. These include new technologies, such as biotechnology, IT and new machinery; incremental change, such as commercial decisions to plant a new crop or alter a label; and the more generic processes by which ideas are conceived, developed and deployed throughout the agricultural sector.
We have identified a number of issues that we want to explore. These include the questions like: How far is agriculture already innovating today?
What are the obstacles to innovation in the sector?
What challenges are likely to drive innovation in the future?
Who and what are the key players and structures that are needed to support innovation in EU agriculture?
How can the CAP and the EUs Research Programme help to resolve the issues identified?
Lord Carter continued: Increased public and private investment in agricultural R&D is seen as essential to increasing food output in line with the projected population growth. Estimates suggest that the magnitude of investment required may be in the region of $7.2 billion per annum globally in addition to the current $36bn per annum. The EU and its Member States will need to decide what contribution they wish to make in order to boost EU agricultural innovation and thereby increase the EUs share of global food supply.
But the main conclusion that we drew from the inquiry was that there was an inescapable need to make an effective and continuing link between research on the one hand and practice on the other. We commented that activity by the EU Member States, whether it was better research into the changing climate, or adjustments to funding programmes, would be of limited effect unless the knowledge gained or the money offered was made available to individual land managers in a practical and relevant manner. Governments had to ensure that statements of policy on adaptation to climate change were given life by being turned into specific advice to farmers and foresters.
He went on to say that the steep decline of Government sponsored research means we have to find a way of getting the innovation message out to farmers in the form of what he calls actionable information.
Lets be clear. The CAP is going to continue to define the shape of EU agriculture for years to come. Any reform agreed for the period after 2013 is not likely to change that. But if it is to meet the challenges of the future, agriculture has to innovate perhaps I should say, has to go on innovating in the UK, in the EU and in the world more generally. With the help of contributions from respondents to our call for evidence, we intend our inquiry will shine a light on possibilities for innovation in EU agriculture, and show how the CAP and other EU policies can help or hinder the work of implementing those possibilities.
When we launched our inquiry in July, we asked people to give us their comments by the end of September. Theres still time for you to comment to us. Well be open to input throughout the duration of the inquiry, but the sooner we hear from you, the more helpful it will be.
I have no doubt that input from those directly involved in farming and foodservice operations will mean that our inquiry will be better informed and that its findings will be all the more influential, Lord Carter concluded.
To submit evidence or find out more about the inquiry and the work of the Committee, please visit the Committee web pages <http://www.parliament. uk/business/committees/committees- a-z/lords-select/eu-environment-and- agriculture-sub-committee-d/> .
To find out more about the membership, remit and work of the House of Lords Committee, please visit: www.parliament.uk/hleud
Lord Carter of Coles talks about the inquiry on Parliaments YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/user/UKparliament