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The Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum - ‘The 25-year food and farming plan and priorities for the UK food, drink and farming industry’

Farm in Sussex

24 May 2016

SCI's Food Group were invited to attend the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum's seminar 'The 25-year food and farming plan and priorities for the UK food, drink and farming industry' on 22 March 2016 in London. The Group's Chair, Craig Duckham, asked University of Nottingham PhD student Nicola Caporaso of the Food Group to join the seminar, and here Nicola reports on the day’s events.

'The Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum organised a seminar entitled ‘The 25-year food and farming plan and priorities for the UK food, drink and farming industry’, which was held in London on 22 March 2016. Over 160 delegates attended the meeting, mainly from governmental agencies, the food industry and public or private research companies. Representatives from the House of Commons and House of Lords also attended the event. The importance of the food industry in the UK was highlighted, due to the fact that the supply chain represents 13% of national employment in the country.

'Sarah Church, Director of Food and Environmental Risk at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, delivered a talk about the priorities for the forthcoming 25-year plan. Calum Murray’s presentation was about the investment opportunities for the food and feed industry. Murray, who represents Innovate UK on the Programme Coordination Group of the Global Food Security initiative, highlighted that the food-related value chain, from primary production through to processing, manufacturing and retail, represents 30% of the global economy. He commented that there is a need to establish centres for agricultural development, as 60% more food will be needed by 2050.

'Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU, reported that the current productivity of the UK agricultural sector is 62%. However, the target of having high yields is not enough, as farmers need good margins to ensure sustainability.

'Jon Woods, General Manager for Great Britain & Ireland Coca-Cola, delivered a speech as Chair of the Competitiveness Steering Group, entitled ‘The priorities for increasing growth and competitiveness’. Particular emphasis was put on apprenticeships, which are currently 1% in the food and agricultural sector, and an increase to 3% is expected. On this aspect, Angela Coleshill commented about the importance of working with universities, to explore how to improve the skills and quality of the people working in the sector.

'Sustainability of the food system was another big topic of the forum. The fact that there is enough food to feed everyone, and in ‘developed’ countries there is a huge waste across the supply chain, but people are starving, is a great issue that politics should address. In terms of sustainability, Timothy Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London, commented that evidence suggests we need dietary change, as the UK food system is currently not sustainable, with limited diversity. Moreover, the supply chains are too long and externalised costs too high. This brings high final prices but very little of this price actually goes to the primary producer. He suggested that horticulture should have predominance in farming, as plants are much more sustainable than dairy or meat, and British agriculture must be restructured, which was recognised as a big challenge.

'A presentation about food waste and sustainability was given by Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP. The fact that one third of food is wasted worldwide and yet hunger is still widespread should be a big factor of concern, so the target proposed is to cut 1/5 of the waste per person. Some examples were given about the re-use of food, such as the use of toasted bread for beer-making and an innovation that allowed one minute shorter cooking of ready-to-eat meals.

'The relationship between research and industry was discussed by Jayne Brookman, Head of the Food Knowledge Transfer Network. Jayne delivered a speech about the opportunities for young graduates and how to foster the interest of young people towards a career in the food sector. The plan is focused on growing the market, building the British food brand and competitiveness, adopting innovation and developing resilience. It also highlighted the need to develop skills, alongside innovation. In this context, there is an urgency to increase the number of apprenticeships in the food and farming sector, and to inspire the next generation to pursue a career in the food and drink industry. The investment should be therefore targeted to technology, product and process innovation, but also skilled people.

'The Forum was a wonderful opportunity to share opinions and points of view on the current situation and future of food and farming. The questions from the delegates fostered an open debate, for example on the importance of boosting research on breeding, as currently there is an underuse of the actual potential. Also, comments from the public covered how to actually put in practice the actions proposed in the plan.

'In summary, the Forum was a great opportunity to look at the future of food and farming together. However, work is still needed to harmonise the needs of economic development and growth with primary production needs and sustainability, as well as consumers’ health, which should always remain the priority.'

Nicola Caporaso,
PhD student, University of Nottingham

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