Reacting to the publication of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Food 2030 report on 5 January, Improve chief executive Jack Matthews said the government should be prepared to back its vision with considerable investment to make the UK a world leader in more sustainable and secure food production.
Welcoming the far-reaching strategy – the first official government food strategy in over 50 years – Matthews said achieving the goals would be a “challenge”, but success would bring huge economic as well as environmental and social benefits.
He said the key lay in investing in skills and technology to create a more hi-tech, efficient food industry, and he urged the government to make food and drink one of its priority sectors for investment in green and low-carbon technologies.
He said: “With the global population set to hit nine billion by 2050 and the continuing threat of climate change, reduced energy resources and the destruction of agricultural land, how we maintain a safe, healthy, abundant and affordable supply of food for everyone is a critical challenge.
“The food industry recognises that it and its food supply chain are highly dependent on the use of fossil fuels and significant amounts of water and energy. Our industry has demanding targets to hit by 2020: zero waste to landfill, a reduction in CO2 emissions with an increase in the use of non-fossil fuels and reductions in packaging and water usage. This leaves the industry with a lot to achieve, but we recognise the need to embrace the challenge.
“However, we cannot talk about creating a more secure, sustainable supply of food without also talking about significant investment in skills and technology. We’re faced with a considerable balancing act as the food industry also needs to increase output if it is to meet rising demand. The only way to achieve this is by doing more with what we have: improving efficiency and driving productivity by creating a multi-skilled workforce in a clean, green and lean hi-tech industry.
“We need to nurture a high level of technical expertise within companies while also investing in the research and development of equipment and processes that will reduce energy usage and the demand for raw materials. Improving the skills of our workforce will have a direct impact on the delivery of these targets, and food and drink manufacturers are working hard to ensure they’re ready to implement the required changes in technology and working practices.
“While I welcome today’s strategy, I remain concerned that the government continues to fail to talk about the food and drink industry as a priority sector in its vision for creating a low-carbon, hi-tech economy. I think the government could be more joined-up in its approach by offering incentives in the form of tax-breaks or direct investment to encourage food and drink companies to undertake more research and take the lead in developing technologies the sustainability agenda requires.
“It makes economic sense as well. The UK food and drink manufacturing industry currently contributes £22.8bn to the productivity measure of UK Gross Value Added (GVA) and has an annual turnover of £78.7bn. It produces £13.1bn in exports and is one of the largest and most competitive manufacturing and processing industries in the world. With the right investment in skills and technology, the industry could lead the world on sustainable food production and become an even more important player in the future of the economy.”
The Food 2030 report can be downloaded at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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