The UK Government has taken its first steps towards a national food security policy and abandoning its long-held stance of leaving supply to be determined by the market. However, it does not look as if it is going to ditch its support for reform of the CAP.
A discussion paper issued by Defra found 'the current global food security situation is a cause for deep concern', listing high energy prices, poor harvests, rising demand, biofuels and export bans in some countries as the main factors.
The government said it wanted to keep British farmers' productivity high, but insisted that the UK should not aim to be self-sufficient in food as that would make food supply too vulnerable to shocks, such as a poor harvest, floods or disease.
A food security policy, according to the document, would have to ensure a reliable supply of food; an efficient transport system; and that food was available at prices people could afford - in particular 'whether low-income consumers can afford enough nutritious food.' However, the paper was short on specifics on how the latter would be achieved.
The paper does not signal a revival of subsidies. Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, attacked the government for failing to commit to 'concrete proposals' to help farmers.
Britain now relies less on food imports than during most of the last century. The UK is about 60 per cent self-sufficient in food, up from about 40 - 50 per cent in the 1950s which was the heyday of productivism and national subsidies. The UK's self-sufficiency was at its highest at more than 70 per cent in the 1980s when generous CAP subsidies encouraged farmers to over produce.