... is that they are bedevilled by a lack of realism and joined-up thinking, says Kevin Hawkins

Not long ago most media coverage of food and dietary issues was peppered by disparaging references to "cheap food".

Supermarket price-cutting was said to be bankrupting farmers and encouraging people to eat badly. We haven't heard much of this nonsense lately.

Now it seems the recent inflation in commodities worldwide is "alarming". Indeed, the situation is now apparently so desperate that Tim Lang finds solace in Defra's Food 2030 (Second Opinion, 26 February) a document replete with visionary aspirations but light on putting them into practice.

Let's get real. First, food price volatility is here to stay. The inflation rate may well fall off next year but as the world's population increases faster than crop yields, prices will rise again. The only way in which countries like the UK can return to stable price regimes is to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food, which isn't on.

Secondly, the best way of increasing global crop yields is by applying genetic technology to plants, particularly maize, wheat and rice. But that means outfacing the anti-GM lobby and persuading the EU to change its emotionally driven stance on GM. Successive UK governments have been tiptoeing round this for years and the Foresight Report, ostensibly mould-breaking, merely says "new technologies should not be excluded a priori on ethical or moral grounds". We'll see.

So what does all this global angst mean for food production in the UK? NFU president Peter Kendall has certainly asked for a Food Plan but not "a Grand Plan led from Whitehall", as Lang seemed to suggest. His focus, realistically, is on reducing our growing dependency on imports of food indigenous to these islands. At national level this means consistency of policy across government, especially in agricultural development where the new localism could stymie new facilities. At farm level it means better returns, especially in livestock, and continued CAP subsidies.

But joined-up thinking is not in Whitehall's DNA. Ministers would love to be rid of the CAP, while better margins for producers are much more likely to come from further concentration and scale economies than from an external adjudicator, another NFU demand. If these challenges are difficult, taking on the rest of Food 2030's agenda looks like a labour of Hercules or, more likely, one of Sisyphus.

Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant.