Source: NFU

Rishi Sunak, as the first prime minister to speak at the conference since 2008, unveiled new plans to boost food security in the UK

The government has today announced plans to carry out an annual food security index, along with a raft of other farming commitments, at the NFU Conference.

Rishi Sunak, the first prime minister to speak at the conference since 2008, unveiled plans to boost food security in the UK, including an annual index that will be made statutory when parliamentary time allows.

Sunak told conference delegates in Brirmingham that the first draft would be published at Number 10’s Farm to Fork Summit this spring. He added that the summit, which made its debut last year, would also become annual events to ensure Westminster continued to listen to the concerns of the farming community.

The index will capture and present the key data needed to monitor how the UK is maintaining food security and is expected to be UK-wide.

“I think we focus sometimes on the headline number, 75% self-sufficient in the foods that we can actually produce, but we need to improve on that,” he said, when questioned by NFU president Minette Batters. “That’s something I think we all want to see, it’s something the British public want to see.

“The events of the last couple of years have demonstrated how important that is and that [with that] headline number, whilst respectable, underneath there are categories where there has been very surprising lack of self-sufficiency in areas.”

Batters urges retailers to pay fair price

In her final address to the NFU Conference, Batters also gave a message “to all food retailers, and most importantly their stakeholders”, to address the issues of supply chain unfairness.

“You have a duty to your farmers and growers,” she said. “They have a right to earn a fair price for what they produce, for you to sell. This means the culture at the top of food retail has to change.”

Answering a question from The Grocer, Batters also conceded that reform of the Groceries Code Adjudicator – a key ask of many farming businesses – would not be easy, as she called for the development of KPIs within the supplier framework, and the embedding of supplier fairness rules within company ESG guidelines. 

The remit of the GCA and the GSCOP code at primary producer level has been a key point of contention in recent weeks. The Grocer reported that many growers were being taken outside the reach of GSCOP last month due to the increasing prevalence of so-called middlemen. The practice is now under investigation from the GCA.  

Batters said many producers were still scared of being delisted for speaking out against sharp practices by supermarket buyers. As a result, ownership of the issue needed to be addressed at board level.

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“You have to know about the relationship with your supplier” to stop a “culture of fear”, she urged.

“I don’t think retailers are setting out to cause this, the market is causing it, the discounters that are in growth and the fight now for footfall is really heating up so it is going to get harder for all of those businesses, it is going to get harder for our members as suppliers,” she added.

Sunak also announced plans to redirect surplus food to “the hands of those who need” with a £15m budget to “stop millions of tonnes of good fresh farm food from going to work just because of its shape or size”.

The government has also announced £427m worth of support for farmers, including a package of funding for technology and productivity schemes.

It will also fund cost-saving energy measures, such as rooftop solar, to safeguard land for food production, and provide support for processing, packing and retailing on farms.

The government will additionally double the management payments for the sustainable farming incentive scheme, putting up to an extra £1,000 in farmers’ pockets. Meanwhile, it has pledged to “cut red tape” with new legislation in April around permitted development rights so farmers can develop buildings and diversify earnings through farm shops, commercial space and sporting venues.