Industry asking for regulation? It doesn’t happen often. But with supply and the environment at stake, a request for firm guidance is fair, says Sue Scott

The idea of the food industry begging for more regulation, not less, sounds suspiciously like turkeys voting for Christmas.

But according to a report due to be published next week called Future Scenarios for the Food and Drink Industry, the big stick is ­precisely what it wants energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne (pictured) to use. The findings ­suggest senior members of the food chain are in favour of government adopting more of a "command and control" approach to balancing supply and demand in order to head off a world where ­diminishing resources could ­trigger civil unrest and a food ­manufacturing meltdown.

Most of those taking part in a series of discussions based on how Britain might look in 2025 said they would prefer to be beaten into line by a government that knew what it was doing over big issues such as global warming, rather than rely on woolly, time-wasting consensual responses in areas such as emissions control and GMOs.

Joint author of the report Finbarr Livesey, director of the Centre of Industry and Government, which sits within Cambridge University's Institute for Food Manufacturing, says as far as manufacturers are concerned, it's okay to be tough, as long as you're consistent.

"More than anything else manufacturers want to reduce uncertainty," he says. "If regulations are changing they cannot plan and get the best out of the system for themselves. I was encouraged by people saying we know this is ­going to cause us pain and there are going to be trade-offs."

But the omens for them suffering all this sacrifice are not good. Within days of the coalition coming to office it was unravelling environmental policies it had previously promised to endorse. Chris Huhne appears to have spent his first few months in office fighting off attacks by cabinet colleague George Osborne, who seems intent on undermining every green principle Huhne thought he was supposed to hold dear including the renewable energy budget.

Manufacturers might want Huhne to beat them, but it looks as though they'll be left more confused than bruised. That's bad news for business, unsettling for investors, and a potential disaster for the planet.

Julian Hunt of FDF, which commissioned the report, says the industry wants to move quickly and decisively on global warming issues that threaten the supply chain. But it needs help. "The food industry recognises we cannot do anything unless there's a proper, coherent policy in the UK setting a long-term direction of travel. Industry can't do that," he says.

Neither can it be expected to shoulder responsibility for making consumers face up to their responsibilities especially when it comes to moral choices, such as whether or not to adopt GMOs.

"We are in difficult position," says Hunt. "As a society we have to understand what we are asking consumers to do and what we are asking industry to do."

What's needed is a grown-up conversation, argues Livesey, along the lines of that happening in America, where he describes the ­relationship between business and government as "open and experimental" two words likely to send the average Whitehall mandarin into catatonic shock.

"We need to be more flexible," he insists. "But it's difficult ­because it challenges a lot of the ­assumptions and rules."

Livesey's research was the first time policy makers, farmers, processors and civil society representatives came together in one room to thrash out some of the biggest ­issues facing food supply and the planet and they proved they can reach a consensus.

The conversation has started. But is anybody in government ­listening?