Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership Food Board September 2022

Response to EFRA Select Committee Inquiry into Food Security

 

 

Written evidence submitted by the Greater Lincolnshire Food Board and UK Food Valley (FS0011)

Agri-food is Greater Lincolnshire’s largest industry supports 75,000 employees in agriculture, food processing, marketing and logistics[1], with GVA of over £3.7billlion, 18% of local GVA (3% nationally) and employs 13% of workers (3.6% nationally).  This makes Greater Lincolnshire the LEP with the greatest dependence on food production, processing and distribution.

The industry contains 6,000 companies[2] from SMEs in agriculture and some micro food producers to over 90 large food companies, including multi-nationals.  Our agriculture produces over £2billion of crops and livestock, 11% of the English total, with particular strengths in fresh vegetables: 30% of English production and 20% of sugar beet, 19% of poultry and 19% of ornamentals[3].

Lincolnshire processes over 60% of UK seafood in 65 fish processors supporting 6,000 jobs, which increases to 10,000 with those in the supply chain.  The LEP has 12% of national meat and poultry processing and 16% of vegetable, fruit and potato processing.

The area is the UK’s food logistics centre with 30% of national food shipments passing through South Lincolnshire (over 1,200 finished lorry loads of food per day). The south bank of the Humber has a major food logistics sector and the A1 corridor has major food distribution centres.

Greater Lincolnshire launched the UK Food Valley programme to promote the importance and potential of its food chain and to co-ordinate investment support.  Since 2016, the UK Food Valley area has seen over £2.5billion invested in the food chain, with an additional 7,000 jobs created.

Food is an international commodity and whilst we believe with the right support we can deliver more domestic production to meet UK market needs, we also see potential to grow our food exports and expect that we will continue to need (substantial) food imports as part of a resilient food supply chain.  The UK Food Valley is keen to help address food security and calls on government to support expanded UK production, processing and export of food.

Our position can be summarised as:

Current EFRA Inquiry into Food Security

  1. What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events?

The challenges to the food chain include:

What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

For businesses the consequences are:

For consumers the consequences are:

  1. What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term?

In the short term:

In the medium term:

What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

We urge government to:

  1. How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious food?

The GLLEP Food Board is made up primarily of food producers, but does include Lincolnshire Co-Op.  However, we don’t deal directly with food poverty and so cannot really comment in detail about impacts on the poorest in Society, except as members of the food chain and wider community.

Healthy and nutritious food is readily available in UK retail and catering outlets.  Our food supply chains are very resilient, as demonstrated during the pandemic, Brexit and now war in Ukraine.

Currently the problem is not one of food supply, but the ability of some consumers to afford to access healthy and nutritious food.  These problems are not new, with the problems of food (especially fresh food) deserts and affordability long standing concerns, exacerbated by events.  These problems are societal and not the result of actions by food producers.

Most consumers can still afford a healthy and nutritious diet and food is still a smaller proportion of most households’ budgets than historically.  However, for those on lower incomes, food is a much higher proportion of household expenditure and these households are also disproportionately impacted by energy and travel cost increases.

We must avoid trying to reduce food prices artificially, e.g. through price controls or imports from countries with lower standards.  This would distort what is a very competitive market and lead to less investment at a time when we need food producers to invest more to meet future supply and sustainability challengesInstead, poorer consumers need targeted help to afford food and their other costs.

  1. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:
    1. the resilience of food supply chains?;
    2. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;
    3. access to healthy, nutritious food?

It is too early to be sure how the Strategy will impact the food industry in detail, as the Strategy acknowledged that it was just the start of the conversation and that work streams are being developed to address the detail.  On food security we were very pleased to see the Strategy acknowledge the importance of UK domestic food supply, after many years when it appeared that government was only interested in the environment.

The Strategy, however, lacked detail on how production was to be supported.  In particular we would be keen to support the development of a horticulture strategy and English aquaculture industry, both of which were signalled by government as policy objectives.

Healthy and nutritious food was only covered briefly in the strategy, at a cross-cutting principle level.  We understand more details on healthy food (and diets) will be contained in a Health White Paper (scheduled for autumn 2022).  The food industry is already investing heavily in healthy, nutritious food and, in the UK Food Valley, we are focusing most of our efforts on promoting: Naturally Good for You Food and Protein Transition.

Greater Lincolnshire is the UK’s largest producer of fresh producer and a leading trader and distributor in these products, and is also the centre of the UK fish processing industry.  We welcome the recognition in the Strategy of the need to invest in horticulture and fish production as healthy products.

The UK Food Valley is also seeing a wave of investment in healthy, low impact protein production with Europe’s largest plant protein factory opening in Boston in 2021, as well as substantial investments by Princes in increased pea production capacity in South Lincolnshire, Branston Potatoes (Food Board member) in potato protein near Lincoln and a new factory development by Naylor Nutrition in Spalding to extract plant protein from waste vegetables.

We also think there remains a place in a balanced sustainable diet for poultry, pig meat and naturally reared red meat and continue to see growth in our egg industry.

  1. Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?

Longer term, our model of depending on other countries to meet 40-50% of UK food consumption is likely to become less sustainable given climate change, the fact the UK represents a shrinking proportion of the global population and changes in consumer objectives.  The UK has some of the lowest impact food production in the World, with high efficiency in carbon, water, biodiversity, waste and energy terms, meaning that increased domestic production delivers net global benefits compared to imports.

The UK will need to continue to trade to secure a resilient and diverse food supply, but evidence from consumers and food supply chain customers suggests that they are more interested in provenance and support increased domestic sourcing where this is environmentally and commercially sustainable.  We believe we can deliver this and should aim to see a modest but steady increase in domestic sourcing of food and drink.

We should seek to balance: increased domestic production; the promotion of resilient international food supply chains; and, growing our food exports which are in demand due to our high standards.

The target set out in the Government Food Strategy (June 2022) on food security is open to mis-interpretation.  It commits to sustaining the market share of UK domestic production, but also calls for increased production in sectors including horticulture and fish (which we support).  However, if you increase domestic production in these products, but overall UK self-sufficiency remains unchanged, this by definition suggests the UK market share of other products will fall. 

We see no reason to believe that the share of domestic production in other products needs to fall and thus think that overall a commitment to a modest, steady increase in the market share of domestic food production is needed 

  1. How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security?

UK food production is amongst the most sustainable in the World and so it is important that we sustain and preferably increase UK food production.  At the same time, we need to take action on climate change and biodiversity.

A key aspect of the strategy has to be to ensure that the changes proposed for land use in the UK are consistent with those we require, or encourage, in other parts of the World.  It is inconsistent and simply exports the impacts of food production, if we insist on land management standards in the UK which are undermined by competition from countries which do not apply the same standards.

Higher standards of land management increase costs and thus either tax payers and/or consumers have to pay more for food.  This can be mitigated, to some extent, through new technology and the UK must redouble its efforts to deliver the solutions needed for sustainable intensification.

What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

The real challenge with policies which some advocate, such as rewilding, is that this simply displaces domestic production to other countries, often in the process increasing the total environmental impact at global level.  This a particular challenge if highly productive land, of the type in Lincolnshire, is taken out of production as in carbon, water and biodiversity impact terms rewilding this land can never compensate for the environmental impacts which arise from bringing other land into production to replace the lost production.

Our aim should be to use land efficiently and in a multi-functional way so that reduced environmental impacts are delivered alongside high levels of productivity, especially on high quality land, as in Lincolnshire, which has some of the highest yields in the World.  Marginal land is less productive and the trade off with food production is less problematic.

Technology also has a key role to play, with innovative new approaches, some pioneered by UK Food Valley companies e.g. regenerative farming and peatland management to sequester carbon at the same time as producing food (Reverse Coal), having a key future role to play in helping to deliver a balance between food and environmental goals.


[1] ONS, Business Register and Employment Survey (2020)

[2] GLLEP (2018), Annual State of the Economy Report 2018

[3] DEFRA (2018), Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June

[4] Inflation | The Food & Drink Federation (fdf.org.uk)