The Farming Forum Grassroots GroupEFRA Select Committee Food security submission             

Written evidence submitted by Farming Forum Grassroots Group (FS0029)


We consider that any resilience has been inadvertently designed out of the UK food system over past decades by corporate actors in pursuit of increased market share and maximum shareholder value. The near complete adoption of just in time supply and minimal stockholding has been a key part of this. The aggressive exploitation of market share in managing supplier relations with UK farm businesses has driven farms to the edge of viability, further compounded by needlessly arbitrary retailer specifications leading to widespread waste of human edible crops, especially in fruit and veg. Also, long term trends in UK labour attitudes and availability have been magnified since Brexit and led to significant staffing difficulties in parts of the food production and processing sector, especially this year. Together these factors have undermined farm-level supply resilience and driven decay in small and medium sized local food business systems which were historically best placed to meet challenges to globalised supply chains.

All of this has left the UK badly exposed to interruptions in the finely balanced food supply system. Global events this year have tipped this into food supply shortages and driven food price inflation.


Social trends in home food preparation and consumption have also been driven by the same corporate capture of the food system, from the rise in highly processed and unhealthy ready meals to the advent of fast food delivery services which add nothing to the resilience, quality or healthfulness of food but extract significant additional value from the system. Healthy, local food is not unaffordable where it still exists if the public have the skills and means to utilise it efficiently. Re-educating the public about this alongside correcting the market power imbalance and supporting local food systems from farm to fork would achieve much in improving UK food security and healthfulness.


Current UK Government strategy including dietary advice, retail and processing share consolidation, land use strategy and overall food strategy all need to change to rebuild resilience, effective affordability and healthfulness. Highly processed foods should be discouraged at all levels. Concentration of retail and processing share should be reversed. Food awareness and skills should be a key part of school curriculums. Local food systems should be rebuilt and encouraged. All of this should be underpinned by a land use strategy which recognises the competitive advantage of UK grassland farming which uniquely can deliver high soil carbon, high landscape amenity value, increasing biodiversity, reduced flood and pollution risk and resilient supplies of healthy local food all at the same time.



This evidence is submitted by The Farming Forum Grassroots Group, a group of farmers (listed below). We all share an “Agroecological” or “Holistic” approach to our land management, concern for the ecological decline on British farmland and concern at the low profitability of the average British livestock farm.

Sam Awdry BA (Hons.). Beef and arable farmer, Cornwall.

Peter J Blair B. IHM (Hons.). Mixed livestock farmer, Owaka, New Zealand.

Tom Chapman BSc (Hons.). Beef farmer and Nuffield Scholar, Hertfordshire.

Angus Dalton. Dairy farmer, Derbyshire.

Ian Davis MCIWEM C.WEM. MIEnvSc. Retired beef farmer, Hertfordshire.

Anthony Ellis BSc (Hons.), MBPR (Agric), Mixed farmer, Agronomist and Environmental Adviser, Cornwall.

Rob Garrett. Tenant farmer, lamb, beef & honey, new entrant 2010, Derbyshire.

Brian Jones. Upland suckler beef and sheep farmer, Denbighshire, Wales.

Huw Jones. Upland suckler beef and sheep farmer, Denbighshire, Wales.

Tom Johnston, mixed livestock and arable farmer with renewables. BSc (Hons), Cumbria

Dave Knight. Coastal upland beef and sheep farmer, Exmoor National Park.

Steve North. Beef and sheep farmer, Somerset.

Daniel Powell, BA (Hons.), Organic beef and arable farmer, Shropshire.

Karl Starkie. Hill farmer, West Yorkshire.

Richard Trevethan. Suckler beef farmer (Organic), Cornwall.



We would welcome any opportunity to discuss our evidence with the Select Committee during the inquiry.

We address your questions in order.

  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? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

The UK is a food importing nation. Much of the current UK diet couldn't be supplied from the UK anyway, we have come to expect seasonal foods to be available all year. Past policy of importing food and agricultural raw materials from the cheapest source has undermined our own capacity to produce the quantity of agricultural raw materials society needs. Over the last 70 years our hard-won food resilience from the days of food rationing, when we held many months supply of key staples at hand within the country, has been replaced by a system of maximum "financial efficiency". This depends utterly on just-in-time supply of most key ingredients from all over the world at lowest cost. Supply resilience? There isn't any. It was designed out to cut cost. Our major food retailers don't even have any physical buffer storage, instead using the trucks doing the daily delivery to serve that function. The whole system hangs by a thread on a daily basis, exposed this year by global events.


Government must also understand that decades of protectionism has led the rest of the world to agree trade deals elsewhere. Even the commonwealth countries prefer to feed China, India, and the US - practically anyone but "The Island Fortress" UK.

All this has left UK consumers and food businesses starkly exposed to global transport issues and to the current crashing value of the pound. Our food supply is more vulnerable to disruption than ever.


Meanwhile UK producers often lose money, wasting good food, due to unreasonable buyer specifications and lack of staff willing to pick perishable produce. Veg is ploughed back in. Fruits rot on the ground. The financial risk is no longer justifiable for many farms. The supply chain above the primary producer, combined with appalling Government policy, has bled the industry dry and removed any ability for it to maneuver towards ethical, responsible production and supply, without the express “permission” of the middle men, that rely on unethical production and supply, to milk the industry.


  1. What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

The current downward trend in the pound and reliance on imports can only fuel food cost inflation in the UK, exacerbated by global food competition. The UK used to be able to pay high relative prices for foods but we're seeing China become a major player in global food purchases to increase their own food security. This is pushing prices up for other countries which are themselves looking increasingly at their food security.


Sadly, it's not that the food is unaffordable here, it is more that their other commitments have first draw on citizen’s pay-cheque;

the common thread being FINANCE!


Food is too cheap in the UK. Its value has been distorted by the drivers in answer 1 above. The fall in the average UK income percentage spent on food has been intentional, to drive discretionary spending on other areas in pursuit of economic growth. The UK spends a lower proportion of average income on food than all other advanced countries. The resulting supply system lacks any resilience and much of the food we do eat lacks genuine nutrition. Our reliance on imports puts us at huge risk of food price instability as the global economy alters under the severe pressure of environmental and climate challenges. It is not that our food needs to be kept cheap, instead we need to return to valuing good food and allocating a larger proportion of our income to achieving it.

If only we food producers had dreamed up a sexy scheme to guarantee food for everyone in exchange for some sort of slick subscription service like the fast food delivery companies that have gone from zero to a greater annual turnover than UK agriculture in the last 10 years while delivering no nutritional or health value at all. Instead, we were persuaded that we needed government handouts to keep food cheap and affordable. We were then advised how to produce this food and best invest the subsequent handouts to ensure efficiency and streamline the route to market, enabling the food supply chain to work at its optimum, keeping supermarket shelves well stocked with all that affordable food. That system has now broken and “the chickens are coming home to roost”.


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

Relatively speaking, healthy nutritious food has never been so cheap. It is the access to it that is the problem. In streamlining the supply chain to chase maximum shareholder value, our dominant food manufacturers and retailers now control what food is sold, where and when.
Natural resilience comes from diversity. Sadly, our food supply chain diversity has been eroded for corporate shareholder benefit. The result is that not only is access to cheap wholesome food almost gone, replaced with high profit unhealthy processed foods, but many people now lack the confidence and knowledge to deal with whole foods. Many food businesses that supposedly add value in fact add cost and make the product worse. Whether it be preparing meats, boning fish or even peeling and cutting vegetables, the supermarkets have persuaded most people to buy prepared foods, marketed as convenient but adding COST and unhealthy ingredients.

People need real food education more than ever, not a passive TV chef presentation but constructive education, as part of the national curriculum. Budget restricted households look for the cheapest, mostly highly processed, foods which can turn out to be expensive in the long run for our personal health and the NHS.


Food education, especially preparation of meals, for the younger generation is critically important, needing a rethink and renewed focus . People don't need to spend more on food but to value it more. Good food is still available, people just need to learn to recognise it and what to do with it. Red meat is considered expensive but buying decent cheaper cuts and knowing how to prepare them is much cheaper than buying highly processed unhealthy foods.


4.              How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:

1.              the resilience of food supply chains?

We don’t believe the government policy paper tackled the resilience in the supply chain issue at all. Weak UK supply resilience has resulted from market domination and extreme cost cutting, depending on just in time supply. Smaller abattoirs , more and smaller packing sheds for veg and less supermarket power would help supply resilience; we need to regain wholesale and retail diversity. During the Covid lockdowns the large supermarkets quite often ran out of essentials while local retailers rose to the occasion and maintained supply.

Local abattoirs and dairies, local shops, access to local grown food, fruit and veg are key to building resilience while encouraging pride and self-responsibility in accessing affordable quality food.


2.              the agri-food and seafood sectors?


3.              access to healthy, nutritious food?

Our food system is NOT providing "access to healthy, nutritious food". Our diet is making us ill in large numbers. The "Eatwell plate", the standard UK dietary advice, is unscientific and inherently unhealthy. We need to totally reform our food sector, driving out the ultra-processed foods and cutting carbohydrate consumption, especially sugars.


We do have access to healthy food but unhealthy is cheaper and highly promoted so people buy unhealthy food in ignorance; Consumers are intentionally badly informed. This needs tackling from both ends. Food is a health issue; Health professionals need to ask themselves why their training hasn’t brought public health improvements. Standing dietary advice must change to reflect robust science rather than industry lobbying. We need a fundamental policy change from current high carb, low fat to a scientifically justified balanced diet. Robust evidence proves that the low fat, high carb advice is driving type 2 diabetes and obesity, the foundations of our ill health epidemic. The food industry loves it though because it is highly profitable.

The Government’s food strategy policy paper says "Charitable foundations formed by industrialists like Cadbury, Rowntree and Weston, have made huge contributions to communities including to encourage healthy eating". It is ironic that these three industrialists are probably responsible for over 50% of the NHS's everyday problems regarding poor dietary choices.  Why didn't the strategy's author simply write Chocolate, Confectionary and Sugar promoters instead?


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

Current Government food self-sufficiency policies and targets are weak and include no account of deliverability. Where is the Government supported independent research on improving farm efficiency? There is none, the obsession with cheap food and relying on imports has left us behind. The Government agricultural research stations / farms were sold off decades ago. Their advice was priceless for the independent information they gave. We need regional demonstration/ advisory farms supported by Government, totally independent of the food industry lobbyists. One positive example is The Rural Business School Survey run by Duchy College which provides information and feed back invaluable to our businesses. This model should be expanded with public funding to provide advice and information, farm to farm.


6.              How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be struck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

There is much talk of intensifying food production to increase supply whilst setting land aside for nature. This idea of separating food production and nature, or "land sparing", fundamentally misses the point. Agriculture, by definition, is the harnessing of natural processes to produce food and fibre. Nature needs to be part of farming and farming needs to be part of nature. Farmers should be encouraged to promote ecological diversity within their farms and, above all, to protect soil and water quality. This can readily be achieved with a change of mindset from farmers and Government.


The UK's grassland is fundamental in terms of carbon sequestration and storage. Policy should not only protect our grassland but also encourage appropriate livestock production, a natural competitive advantage of the UK. Nutrient dense, healthy food production from grass ticks virtually every box in any governments wish list; Securing the rural economy, Carbon sequestration, Healthy food, Landscapes people love, Clean water and higher biodiversity. All of this whilst providing affordable food. Re-integration of grass breaks into the arable rotation can even address many of the failings of our increasing arable specialisation over recent decades. Grassland is the backbone of UK land use and should be encouraged at every level.