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Too little focus on food production and food security has been presented during the election campaign, argue the NFU, BRC, UKHospitality and FDF

Key players across the food and drink supply chain have urged the main political parties to “set out how they intend to support domestic food and farming sectors, and how they will work to ensure resilient supply chains”.

With just two weeks to go until election day on 4 July, the NFU, BRC, UKHospitality and FDF have joined forces to express “frustration” at the lack of coverage during the election campaign over how the next government will approach the issue, despite widespread agreement that “food security is national security”.

In a letter to the party leaders, the bodies – representing of the country’s farmers, supermarkets, hospitality, catering and food companies – warned the issue needed to be “urgently addressed” before the UK went to the polls. Policies on food security needed to be “front and centre of public campaigns”, they said.

The letter, sent today, stated: “Our food system has shown itself in recent years to be efficient and resilient, maintaining UK food supply through a series of major challenges, including Covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and new trading arrangements by leaving the European Union.

“At times, those supply chains have come under severe strain, leading to shortages of some food and drink products and increasing costs at all points of the chain from producer to consumer. It would be foolhardy to assume that our food system will always withstand shocks, especially against the backdrop of increased geopolitical instability and climate change.”

General election: What are the main parties promising on food and farming?

The “basic responsibility” of any government was to ensure its citizens were safe and properly fed, it read. “But while we have heard much about defence and energy security in recent weeks, we have heard very little about food security,” the letter added.

‘Worrying blind spot’

“The lack of focus on food in the political narrative during the campaigns demonstrates a worrying blind spot for those that would govern us.”

The letter sets out six urgent priorities for whichever party forms the next government to ensure British food is available at all price points, in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world. They include:

• A planning system that allows investment in modern buildings and infrastructure

• Work with the food and drink sector to deliver a plan to achieve net zero ambitions

• A coherent industrial policy that includes a tax framework incentivising investment, fosters research and innovation in the UK; takes a joined-up approach to immigration; skills and employment policies that ensure the sector has access to the labour it needs

• An agricultural budget that enables the delivery of environmental objectives, and delivers targets for climate and biodiversity

• An approach to trade that seeks to reduce non-tariff barriers with key trading partners

• A long-term partnership with industry to tackle obesity and health inequalities in communities across the UK

“These policies are critical to the future health and prosperity of our nation,” the letter concluded.

“We should never take our food security for granted, and whoever forms the next government will need to address these issues as a priority.”

Read more: It’s Britain’s chance to lead the world in low-carbon food production

The publication of the letter at such a key point of the election campaign follows a muted food sector response to likely winner Labour’s manifesto, published on 13 June.

As The Grocer reported last week, the document, while promising a “new deal for farmers”, offered little detail as to how it would be achieved.

And unlike many of Labour’s rivals, there was also no commitment to either maintaining or increasing the agriculture budget – an omission slammed as “deeply disappointing” by NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

Commenting on the manifestos in an opinion piece for The Grocer this week, M&S Food MD Alex Freudmann said the food sector needed “a joined-up strategy – from farm to fork – which helps our food producers adapt to change and seize the opportunities to diversify and grow”.

The main parties had offered “very little” in “how to sustain and grow our world-leading food and farming sector”, he added, nor had they seized the opportunity “to be at the forefront of the move to lower carbon food production”.