Is this the end for the great British salad?
Imports are replacing home-grown fruit and veg
Admittedly, it has not been the weather for it, but the great British salad is in peril. So much of what we eat is now imported, farming leaders have placed British tomatoes, spring onions and cucumbers on a list of "endangered" fruit and vegetables. Lettuce is among four crops deemed to be "at risk".
In the past decade, there has been a slump in self-sufficiency. While we are eating more salad, less and less of it is home-grown. The National Farmers' Union blames the major retailers for ripping off growers, offering short-term contracts and often forcing them to foot the bill for cut-price promotions.
In 2000, more than half of the cucumbers we ate were grown in Britain. A decade later, it had fallen to less than a third. Over the same period, the proportion of home-grown tomatoes fell from 29 per cent to 19 per cent, and spring onions slumped from 63 to 22 per cent. At the same time, all three crops grew in popularity, with the amount of spring onions eaten doubling to 64,000 tons.
Also on the endangered list – where British production fell by more than 20 per cent while consumption grew – are broad, runner and dwarf beans, and mushrooms.
Those deemed at risk, including lettuce, cauliflower, leeks and Brussels sprouts, saw British production fall faster than consumer demand.
In a new report, Catalyst for Change, the NFU warns: "A continuation of this situation could lead to fewer British fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves for consumers to buy, higher levels of imported produce, less product choice and innovation, and the possibility of higher food prices in the long term due to a lack of efficiency and investment in the grocery supply chain."
There are more than 4,000 fruit and vegetable growers in Britain, producing more than nine million tons a year. The horticulture sector is worth £3bn to the economy.
Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president, said: "This is not about growers versus retailers, but we have to bring an end to damaging activities or risk losing huge swathes of British horticultural production."
High production costs, on energy, water and fuel, have forced many growers out of business. Being at the mercy of the weather, as well as supermarket chains refusing to commit to buying until late in the season, means many firms struggle. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, almost a quarter of horticulture businesses in England failed to make a profit in 2010/11, with a further 39 per cent making under £30,000.
Some fruit and veg are performing better. Self-sufficiency in strawberries, pears, asparagus and sweet peppers rose between 2010 and 2000, matched by growing demand.
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