Kevin Pearce, who heads up the Food and Farming Department of the NFU, which looks after all the key agricultural sectors and works on the food chain, welcomed the opportunity to talk to foodservice suppliers at the Footprint Forum entitled Foodservice and Agriculture: Promoting Understanding at the Farmers and Fletchers Hall in the City of London. He said: This is a very important part of the food supply chain and I dont think that the producer end of the food chain has engaged with you enough in the past.
The NFU has tried to put this right in recent years and I know that we have had discussions with a number of the companies represented here this afternoon and Im sure that there is a lot more that we can do, he said.
He explained how the NFUs work has changed over the years. CAP reform in 2002 saw the start of a move away from linking agricultural support to production and in England we no longer have support payments linked to production. Of course, some of the key sectors of British agriculture have not been supported such as Horticulture or Pigs and Poultry and these sectors are closer to the market place than those that have been supported in the past.
Now, you cant blame the sectors that were supported in the past for this because in reality the strongest market signal that they received was from the support schemes and not the market, he said.
Food prices and food security are key topics these days, he said. In the national media five years ago you would never have heard them mentioned. The Cabinet Office report in 2008 into food strategy described the UK food security challenge as principally a global one: this follows the principle that the UK is a rich country with relatively open markets and various trading partners.
We believe that this approach is naïve, relying as it does on trade and imports to buy our way out of any possible food shortages. However the biggest concern of all is the ability of countries around the world to place restrictions on food exports in times of high prices.
He warned: Weve just seen Russia, one of the world largest grain exporters announce its intention to place restrictions on grain exports, sending futures markets into overdrive. In the past weve seen Argentina restrict beef exports to reduce domestic prices. In July 2008, the World Bank counted 31 countries that had reduced or suspended their exports, a factor that has contributed perhaps more than any other to food crises in many developing countries.
While high grain prices are welcome news for cereal farmers they are not so welcome for others like the poultry and pig sectors where feed is a major element of their input costs 67 per cent of a poultry farmers input costs are feed and less than 10p in your average loaf of bread is wheat costs.
The NFU has been pro-CAP reform, we want to see an environment where the market signals do come from the market. However, there is still a long way to go in a European context to see a CAP across the EU. We will see further proposals to reform the CAP next year.
In foodservice, as with other parts of the food chain we have seen a move to more demand for traceability and provenance requirements and perhaps even more recently to more sustainability. This is I think why we have seen such a growth in licences for Red Tractor in the foodservice sector. So I think that the relationship between the foodservice sector and food producers has improved and it will continue to improve and we at the NFU are committed to helping develop those relationships. We believe that the Red tractor is a marque that can and should be used even more widely in the foodservice sector as it provides whole chain assurance.
He told delegates: Six million hectares of land is under active environmental management. Weve produced an environmental plan for Dairy Farming which looks at the environmental issues that affect dairy production. We have also been working on roadmaps for dairy and meat sectors. One of the key challenges on climate change is to look holistically at the issue and not just at carbon or nitrates etc. There are enormous challenges with water with 70 per cent of the worlds water being used in agriculture the figure for UK is just 2 per cent. Its not a simple issue and it needs a sensible and open debate, said Pearce.
Finally, I believe that the food producing end of the food supply chain is up for the challenge of increasing the use of home produced food in the food service sector. We are a professional industry ready to adapt and change, we are aware of the challenges the world faces on food security and climate change and I passionately believe that British Agriculture can be sustainable and that it can be part of the solution to the major challenges we face, he concluded.