Food supply 'balanced on a knife edge'
PUBLISHED: 11:43 25 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:20 28 March 2014
JANUARY 23, 2008: The world's food supply is balanced on a knife edge between sufficiency and shortage, according to the National Farmers' Union.
NFU president Peter Kendall said statistics from the United Nations show that, although the 2007 world harvest produced a record 2.1 billion tonnes of cereals, wheat stocks have fallen again, to just 65 days' supply, the lowest level since 1983.
He said this comes as climate change is affecting harvests around the world, there is a remorseless increase in demand, supplies are less secure, and market prices are more volatile than probably ever before.
Mr Kendall said: "No country can afford to neglect the productivity of its own farming sector against that daunting background, least of all a country like the UK, which has allowed its self-sufficiency in indigenous foods to fall by 15 per cent in the last ten years.
"This is not a plea for Government intervention in the market. Britain's farmers and growers are more than capable of rising to the challenge of increasing their productivity, given fair markets and proportionate regulation. But after the crises of 2007, and in the wake of years of falling incomes, confidence is low, particularly in the livestock sectors, where higher grain prices have not yet been reflected in higher output prices.
"What we need is a sea-change in the Government's approach to farming to match the sea-change that has occurred in the industry's importance to the economy.
“A clear, unequivocal acknowledgement of the value of productive farming from either Hilary Benn or Gordon Brown would be enormously helpful in indicating that this is at least understood.
“But beyond that, the acid test will be measured in actions, not words. It will revolve around whether Government takes the opportunity to enable and empower rather than encumber and encroach."
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the industry's science base, said Mr Kendall. During the years of apparent plenty, production-related research suffered serious neglect, he said.
"Consider the bluetongue threat," he said. "Without the vaccine that the scientists have developed to combat the disease, and which should be deployed in early summer, the UK livestock industry would be decimated.”
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