Eat home-grown to boost Fruit and Veg UK Plc, says Owen Paterson

Environment minister laments quantity of food imports and urges shoppers to buy British but UK farming needs long-term investment

Shoppers are regularly urged to “Buy British” to help UK manufacturing – and now we’re being asked to switch to home-grown fruits and vegetables to boost the rural economic recovery.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on Tuesday challenged consumers to end the country’s reliance on imported food, claiming that £2bn of the £8bn worth of fruit and vegetables shipped in last year could be produced in Britain.

This would reverse a trend that has seen food imports soar in the past decade as supermarkets demand ever cheaper produce and customers seek out their favourite ingredients all year round.

Britain grows just 30 per cent of the cucumbers it eats, down from 55 per cent in 2000, while cauliflower production as a proportion of consumption has halved – to 32 per cent – over the same period.

Just 19 per cent of the tomatoes Britain eats are grown domestically and 4 per cent of salad onions, and the country has a strong allegiance to New Zealand lamb, French apples, Spanish cucumbers and Danish bacon.

“We have a top-class fruit and veg sector which produces everything from green beans to strawberries, yet we imported £8bn of fruit and veg in 2012,” Mr Paterson told the Oxford Farming Conference on Tuesday.

“We can’t grow mangoes or pineapples, but we can encourage UK consumers and food businesses to buy Scottish raspberries or Kent apples. By buying seasonal fruit and veg we can improve the nation’s health, help with the environment and boost the economy.”

Mr Paterson warned that the task of producing more food would be made considerably harder without a relaxation of the stringent rules surrounding genetically-modified crops, which are essentially banned in Europe while being widely grown in North and South America.

“Europe risks becoming the Museum of World Farming as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets,” he said.

Mr Paterson pledged that the Government will help UK farmers sell their produce abroad, and said it had already instructed schools, hospitals and other public bodies to buy more food locally.

At the moment, imports account for about 40 per cent of Britain’s total food consumption, with the bulk of the rest coming from 25 countries. The Netherlands is the biggest foreign supplier, providing 5.9 per cent of the total food consumed, followed by Spain at 5.1 per cent, France (3.3 per cent), Ireland (3.2 per cent) and Germany (2.6 per cent).

The Environment Secretary’s challenge to produce a quarter of imports in Britain was broadly welcomed, although experts said it remained to be seen whether it would be met. Friends of the Earth food campaigner Vicki Hird lamented the low levels of investment in “UK Fruit and Veg PLC” in recent decades, pointing out that grants were even available to cut down apple trees in the 1980s and 1990s as supermarkets favoured imports.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the organic farming charity the Soil Association, welcomed the Environment Secretary’s words, but said that consumers must learn to eat far more seasonally.

“We could easily scale up fruit and veg production. We’ve seen a huge loss of British orchards over the last 30 or 40 years and they were wonderfully productive – because it was cheaper to buy Golden Delicious from France. But there has been a backlash against the soggy stuff and a real resurgence in British Apple production,” said Mr Melchett.

Phil Bicknell, chief economist at The National Farmers Union, said Mr Paterson’s push to increase production was “very positive” but cautioned that “just talking about it doesn’t mean it will happen”.

He said farmers would benefit from a change in the “retail relationship”, arguing that the fact that supermarkets focus on low prices and short-term contracts of just a year or two does not encourage the kind of long-term investment needed in areas such as poultry sheds and greenhouses.

To make matters worse, farmers are reeling after terrible weather in 2012 and the first half of 2013 badly damaged crops and, in turn, profits, Mr Bicknell said.

The farm industry needs to rise to the challenge of adapting to more volatile times, he said, and the Government needs to provide reassurance, for example in the form of financial support through the Common Agricultural Policy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Systems Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre Scho...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£17900 - £20300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic Marketing Assis...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'