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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue