Written evidence submitted by The National Sheep Association (FS0030)

Date: 30th September 2022

The National Sheep Association is a charitable company that represents the views of sheep farmers through a membership structure across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


  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 agricultural industry is combating a period of extreme and unprecedented volatility within the marketplace, supply chains and input costs. Shortages and extreme price increases have reduced the usage of fertilisers in Britain and although for grassland farming there are alternative approaches such as the use of clovers the industry has not been able to adapt quickly enough for this not to have an impact on total yields.

Inflationary pressures are resulting in increased costs of all farm inputs, from feeds to fencing materials to fuel and energy.  The tendency for many sheep farmers will be to try to spend less, and this could reduce food supply due to less than ideal flock management.

Labour shortages in critical areas such as horticulture and food processing are leading to higher levels of waste and sub optimal levels of efficiency

In many parts of the UK farms and productivity levels have been hit by extreme drought conditions.  For sheep farmers this is being felt most in the south half of Britain and some farms are having to cut stock numbers due to low levels of grass growth.  The situation for sheep farmers looks serious for the winter with uncertainty over the recovery of grass leys, an estimated 50% reduction in root crops for winter grazing, and a likely reduction in winter tack grazing on dairy farms.  This will either lead to reduced food production or an increase in costs that is unlikely to be recovered in the marketplace.  We can expect future climate volatility and uncertainty which will affect the availability of food ingredients.

The protection and enhancement of food supply chains across the UK should be prioritised across government and there should be sufficient investment in processing and storage infrastructure in a way that provides resilience in food supply with a low carbon footprint.

The impacts of the war in Ukraine, hot on the heels of Covid 19, are being felt across global markets and food supply chains here and across the world, the UK currently produces 60 per cent of its food by value. Although we import a large amount of our food, driven by consumer demand for specific and out of season products to satisfy dietary needs which although responding to consumer demand can expose the supply chains to logistical, production and political influences. Although retailers pride themselves on delivering for consumer demand, this is also often out of kilter with what we produce in Britain, for example sourcing New Zealand & Australian lamb in the height of the British production period, an issue that is seen across many products. We are concerned that new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand could lead to less certainty of supply into our domestic food supply chains, particularly lamb, given the absence of any strategy for balancing imports and exports.  We believe there should be investment in the development of a food security vision, strategy, and associated infrastructure across Britain to extend the British season, e.g. cold storage, small and medium sized abattoirs and skilled labour.

 As part of the 2020 Agriculture Act, the government committed to publishing a report relating to levels of food security in the UK at least once every three years. The first report was published just before Christmas and explores past, current, and predicted data relating to food security to set a baseline for comparisons as subsequent reports are published. It is vital for British farmers, and for the food security of the nation, that these reports are widely shared and communicated. We reiterate that a 3-year reporting mechanism without a vision and strategy is unlikely to resolve the food security challenges ahead.

When considering food security there are also questions emanating from the development of environmental schemes as part of Defras Future Farming Schemes.  The NSA considers it is vital that the development of these schemes puts food production at its heart, with an ambition to optimise a balance of increasing food production, improving productivity levels, and delivering for the climate, nature, and natural resources through farming rather than in spite of it.   In particular it is crucial that we recognise the value of grasslands and their multi-functional outputs, including the ability to produce food while also building and storing carbon, providing for nature, and protecting natural resources, providing access, and maintaining rural communities and economies.   The current experience of valuable grasslands being bought to plant trees for carbon credits is misguided and will reduce food production capacity while also risking undesirable environmental and social consequences.  Lamb produced on grass in the UK is some of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable in the world and should not be sacrificed in a trade off for emissions, or in a drive to change land management for any one single issue benefit.

  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?

We foresee food inflation continuing to rise as we progress into winter, caused by shortages and increased production and processing costs.  We are concerned about the outcome of a potential battle between retailers who will be applying as much pressure as possible on suppliers to keep prices low, and a supply sector who will need to see price increases to cover increased energy and input costs.  We are concerned that successful and established food businesses could be forced to cease due to the economic situation, and that this will further disrupt food supply chains and security.  In the short term we may see food imports increase and there is a danger that we will see a significant reduction in food production infrastructure in Britain that would be difficult to rebuild.   For this reason, and reasons of national security we believe Govt should be prepared to step in and support food production and processing as a priority industry.  This could be done for example by special measures to limit energy cost increases for food producing businesses (over and above measures announced to help the business sector).



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

Costs are rising across the country not only for consumer but also producer. The agricultural industry has seen little intervention from government to tackle the issues faced by agriculture especially during the Labour crisis but also the almost tripling costs of CO2, fertiliser, feed and fuel. It is encouraging to see the recent announcements from government to address the fuel crisis will be a welcome relief for many, however after what is now years of significant price pressures and political turmoil many will find these measures don’t go far enough. Increasing costs of living are already affecting diets, particularly of lower income households, and it is highly likely that there will be sub optimal diets in front of many this winter.  Lamb is a highly nutritious form of protein, minerals, trace elements, and essential acids and we feel it is essential to maintain its accessibility to those who would choose to buy it. Poor nutrition in children can be partly overcome through access to high quality school meals and this relates to Govt policy on public procurement where we believe British lamb should feature alongside other British food ingredients. Lamb fits the agendas of slightly less but higher quality meat, and high animal welfare farming systems and its place in people food choices shouldn’t be undermined by inflationary pressures.


  1. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:
    1. the resilience of food supply chains?;

If these proposals are put into place then we would hope that Government measures to address the growing cost of living would limit negative impacts on the food supply chain.  The paper commits to a sustainable long-term approach to tackling poverty and supporting people on lower incomes, and a more sustainable food system that is affordable to all, and a prosperous food sector. We suggest more work be done on food education, the development of a food vision and strategy, with a close link to the planned land use strategy.  We remain concerned that trade deals with Australia and New Zealand could undermine our market and our high standards of production due to them not carrying the same costs of production as farmers in Britain.  Overall if the proposals are implemented then the effect on the resilience of the food supply chain should be positive, however implementation and commitment will be key.

    1. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;

We accept that self-sufficiency is not the same as food security, and that security might be achieved by being part of a global food system.  However, our ability to be food secure can be argued to be underpinned by a high level of self sufficiency which will help protect us in a volatile world where politics, economics, and climate can easily and quickly change the global food system.  This has been demonstrated by the Ukraine conflict.

    1. access to healthy, nutritious food?

If the proposals in the Govts food strategy policy paper come to fruition then they should lead to greater/ maintained access to healthy nutritious food.   This could be delivered through investment and support in resilient supply chains from farm to the point of consumption.  Proposals to minimise the impact of cost-of-living increases, and the provision of healthy food to schools and hospitals would also improve access to healthy and nutritious food.  The key to success will be the implementation of these policies and meaningful investment and delivery.


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

The policy paper suggests an aspiration to ‘broadly maintain’ the current level of food produced domestically, boosting production namely in horticulture and seafood. NSA would advocate the absolute importance of there not being a trade off between any sector within agriculture and no single sector should reduce production especially when we are barely 60% self-sufficient. It would be catastrophic to use the red meat industry as a bargaining chip to offset emissions.

NSA would yet again highlight the incompetency of trade deals already struck between New Zealand and Australia especially highlighting that in this Food Strategy there is the ambition to ‘without compromising our regulatory standards’ provide consumer choice, yet as the sheep industry has seen time and again imported Lamb cannot compare to British production (environmental & welfare) standards, disappointingly the Australian FTA passed without parliamentary scrutiny.

This strategy also seeks to maximise trade export opportunities which again for the deals struck for the UK sheep industry there has been little if any opportunity for UK producers.

It will be entirely disappointing for the agricultural industry if the government enact upon their 50% food spend target to go on food certified to a higher environmental standard. Not only does the UK have some of the highest environmental standards in the world the new SFS, SFI and proposed Scottish & NI farming schemes are all targeted at environmental actions, there must be some sort of reward which is yet to seen in the marketplace, especially during current financial and economic turmoil the world over. UK Government should value the produce grown on its doorstep and nurture those producers providing for the consumer, without undermining them for example by allowing New Zealand lamb onto the shelves of UK supermarkets in June.


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

Balance will be vital but food production has to take precedent and Britain’s history and our ecology is highly based on farming and grazing activity. Policies should prioritise the delivery of environmental benefits through farming approaches rather than as an alternative to farming. Although the document outlines a ‘focus to support sustainable food production’ it is difficult to identify the targets or measures focusing on food, yet a plethora to treble woodland creation and protect 30% of land and seas by 2030. NSA would advocate for importance of recognising the value of a healthy farmed landscape, in particular Britain’s large area of grasslands, not only for soil health, biodiversity, and small mammals. Grazing livestock provide huge benefits to the natural world and this should be the focus of any new policy. There must be coherent and joined up thinking between government organisations that takes into account the cost of implementing many of these actions and whether it is sustainable long term. For example, proposals to reduce production to plant large areas with woodland or similar land scale land use change.

NSA would reiterate the climate and nature benefits, and the sustainability of food produced here in the UK, particularly sheep farming as a stand along enterprise, or as one integrated into a rotational cropping situation. Any government policy must protect, enhance and provide opportunity for our own industry rather than helping those offshore, and in doing so establish and support resilient food supply chain here in Britain.

NSA would advocate that to become more food secure as a nation we must utilise the produce grown on our doorstep, providing support and legislation that protects and provides opportunities for our primary producers in the UK, in turn affording them with the ability to reinvest in delivering high environmental and animal welfare outcomes. NSA would advocate for UK produce, being world renowned for its high environmental, welfare and health standards with a huge number of these standards being entrenched in law, to be at the heart of any future food, trade, health & environmental policy.

Any agreed targets, outcomes and actions must take into account the people and businesses that will deliver them, land managers and farmers are often best placed to deliver such outcomes and should be consulted with to ensure the best delivery methods are in place without hindering food production. Farming and agricultural areas are not only a tapestry of habitats, but it must be recognised that these unique ecosystems have been forged from food production activities, 44% of the UK’s breeding sheep belong to the upland areas, with up to 75% in Wales, many of these areas are underpinned and rely on farming and food production as the main economic activity. The UK is home to over 60 native breeds of sheep which over hundreds of years have adapted to the harsh conditions of some of these areas to best utilise forage, NSA advocate the importance of maintaining these areas not only as honey pots for biodiversity but also to recognise the integral part they play in the food production system while ensuring the UK is as sustainable as it can be.