by David Bean

A Countryside Alliance briefing note on supporting local food infrastructure, prepared in advance of a Westminster Hall debate on 8 September 2022.

Background

  • This debate is being held to provide an opportunity to “discuss the UK’s food supply chain and explore how we boost self-sufficiency, build long-term resilience, and localise our food system so that food producers have more direct routes to the market.”
  • It will seek to explore long-term Government infrastructure investment requirements to support food producers and how the issue intersects with the wider levelling-up agenda.
  • The debate also acknowledges the context of the Government Food Strategy having recently been published alongside a consultation on public sector food procurement, which included a target of 50% of government food expenditure going on local food.

Key Issues

  • The levelling up agenda is too often seen as purely about supporting and improving urban areas outside of the south east of England. Rural Britain needs levelling up too, including its infrastructure, so that rural businesses including the local food sector can thrive.
  • Primary food production is largely a rural business and with food being the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, it is of vital importance both to the national and local economies. Investing in opportunities for local food production, and robust local markets, must surely be a key objective for government.
  • Food production, and those engaged in it, are essential to the delivery of the environmental benefits that the Government wants to see at the heart of its new agricultural support system, such as Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs). Unless we recognise the dual role of farmers as food producers and conservationists, we risk turning farmers into environmental contractors with little incentive to continue farming.
  • The Government is proposing to prohibit live export for slaughter but perhaps more important is that it takes place as close as possible to where an animal is reared. This is a key consideration in any local food infrastructure. The Alliance has welcomed the Government’s apparent recognition of the value of local slaughter but is disappointed by the omission of issue of local abattoirs from the Government Food Strategy. Local slaughter allows for added product value to be retained within local economies and also has important benefits for animal welfare.
  • The Government also needs to take steps to improve access to public procurement contracts for smaller businesses and at a local level. The current consultation on public food procurement also provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate nutritionally superior game meat and push for it to be on the menu.
  • We support efforts to develop a comprehensive food labelling policy and extend mandatory country of origin labelling to lightly processed meats and some dairy products. The Government should also continue and develop protections for regional and speciality food and drink products.
  • While this debate helpfully focuses on infrastructure for use by local food producers specifically, the continued need for investment in the wider infrastructure required for the success of any local business, in particular digital connectivity, cannot be ignored.
  • Improved mechanisation within agriculture will be welcome and has the potential to bring additional benefits including increased productivity, so this should be an important target for local food infrastructure investment. Clearly, however, this cannot be achieved overnight. Nearer-term solutions to labour shortages are needed, especially in sectors where seasonal work is vital in bringing in the harvest.
  • The Countryside Alliance will shortly launch the 2022 Countryside Alliance Awards, which are our contribution to the recognition and promotion of rural businesses, many operating in the food and drink sectors.

To read the briefing in full, please click here.

If you would like to help the Countryside Alliance stand up for rural businesses and communities, please consider joining today.

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