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Securing the British food supply

Parliament’s last full week before the Easter recess saw two important debates on an issue that is never far from the top of the Countryside Alliance agenda: British food production and security. After a brief Westminster Hall debate earlier in the week, on Thursday 21 March the House of Commons deliberated on reports touching on the matter from three separate Select Committees: Environmental Audit; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Science, Innovation and Technology. 

Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, opened Thursday’s debate by emphasising the critical importance of food security and the need for action in light of environmental change and insect decline. A food producer himself, he highlighted the interconnectedness of food production and environmental challenges. He outlined three key pillars: adaptation of farming systems, mitigation of environmental impacts, and harm reduction.  

Mr Dunne also discussed government initiatives to address food waste, promote water efficiency, and encourage healthier diets. He urged for continued efforts in technological innovation to mitigate environmental impacts. Additionally, he raised the forthcoming land use framework and called for prioritising food security within environmental land management schemes. Despite challenges, Mr Dunne remained optimistic about technological advancements offering solutions to environmental issues. 

The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, followed Philip Dunne’s speech discussing soil health and its importance in agriculture, noting the lack of comprehensive data on soil quality. He drew historical parallels with debates on food security, mentioning past legislation such as the Corn Laws.  

Sir Robert highlighted a theme that has been key to Countryside Alliance campaigning in recent years: the need to balance food production with environmental goals, citing issues we have been raising repeatedly with the use of productive land for solar energy generation and with upland farming. He praised government initiatives including the recently announced annual UK Food Security Index, but expressed concerns about the future of sugar beet and oilseed rape crops arising from pest pressures and environmental impacts. Additionally, he questioned the potential impact of adverse weather conditions on cereal crops and suggested strategies to enhance domestic food production while maintaining environmental sustainability. 

Greg Clarke MP, Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, lauded his fellow committee chairs for their expertise in food security matters. He addressed insect decline, stressing their crucial role in ecosystems and agriculture. Comprehensive insect data, he argued, is scarce so he recommended increased funding for long-term monitoring. He advocated for a national invertebrate strategy, expanding focus beyond pollinators, and praised contributions from amateur entomologists. Additionally, he proposed incorporating integrated pest management into environmental land management schemes to address biodiversity decline effectively. 

Responding for the Government at the conclusion of the debate the Defra Minister, Robbie Moore MP, expressed gratitude to all Members and Select Committee Chairs for their contributions to the debate on food security. He highlighted the Government’s commitment to enhancing domestic food production and the importance of a holistic approach to food security, citing initiatives and reiterating the potential impact of the forthcoming Food Security Index.  

Mr Moore addressed the concerns about pesticides that were central to the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s Inquiry. He emphasised sustainable use and reassured Members that the expected national action plan would be published imminently; he also outlined other efforts to support pollinators. The Minister concluded by reaffirming the Government’s dedication to food security and thanked all contributors to the debate. 

To support our continuing efforts to maintain food production and security at the top of the Government’s agenda, please consider joining the Countryside Alliance today. 

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