Food

On Monday the Government published a report about food security.  At last Ministers are conceding what others have been saying for some time - that the UK should grow more of its own food.

With the world's population calculated to increase from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, the UN estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70 per cent in comparison to today's levels.

When he was at the Treasury, Gordon Brown's position was that it didn't matter where Britain's food came from.

The result has been that, over the last decade, Britain has become increasingly dependent on imports of food we could grow ourselves.  Lamentably, the UK's self-sufficiency in indigenous food has fallen from 82 per cent in 1998 to 73 per cent in 2008.

Some question if this matters.  Apart from the issue of food security, we need to keep farmers on the land to manage the countryside, and our animal welfare standards are high.  Allowing imports of meat produced to lower standards - and then passed off as British through misleading labelling - is wrong.

It isn't just global population increases that will put pressure on worldwide food supplies.  One of the most pressing challenges for agriculture will be in response to climate change.

Earlier this week I saw a great example of how farmers can adapt positively when I visited John Ford's farm in Partridge Green.  In addition to his traditional beef and cereals, he is now producing the only English sunflower oil available on the market.

The issue of how to ensure food security in the near future, and the role that British farming will play, is too important to ignore.  That means we need a mature debate over the role of plant technology, including genetic modification, in avoiding future food shortages.

One thing is sure - we can't allow the issue to be swept under the table, as happened over energy.  We need food to live, so we had better start thinking about how to make sure the world has enough of it.

Michelle Taylor