British policy change a step forward
Published 12/01/2010 | 05:00
The extent to which food security has moved up the international political agenda was highlighted by recent comments from the UK agriculture minister, Hilary Benn.
Announcing a new food strategy for the UK at a farming conference in Oxford, the minister made the bold assertion that food security was now as important as energy security, and that securing both would have to be a priority.
This is a remarkable statement, and particularly from a British minister. With the exception of the two world wars, British policy since the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s has been driven by a determination to source low-cost food for the country's industrial workers.
Protecting local producers was never a priority for Britain in peace time. However, that would now appear to have changed.
The strategy points out that the British spend in excess of €190bn on food and drink each year, and the sector employs 3.5m people.
It states that Britain will have to produce more food, in a more sustainable manner, and ensure that the produce safeguards consumers' health.
Interestingly, there was little talk of farmer incomes in the speech, even though ensuring a fair return for primary producers will be critical to the success of any drive to increase overall agricultural output.
What does the new policy initiative mean for Ireland?