‘Short-sighted in the extreme’: UK Government calls climate change a ‘longer-term’ risk to food security

Image: NFU

The Summit was convened by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today (14 May), with dozens of representatives from businesses across the food system attending to collaborate on projects intended to improve the UK’s food security.

A key announcement from the Prime Minister was the publication of a new Annual Food Security Index in a draft format. The index tracks domestic food production, food imports, farmer productivity and other factors.

Because the Index is based on data from 2022 and earlier, it states that the UK’s farming sector is “at its most productive since records began”. It also concludes that global food supplies have remained “broadly stable”.

Yet productivity in the UK has taken a hit in recent times due to extreme weather. The 18 months leading up to April were officially the wettest on record in England, impacting the production of wheat, barley, fruit, vegetables and lamb among other foodstuffs.

A survey conducted by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) confirmed that eight in ten farmers have seen either ‘fairly negative’ or ‘very negative’ impacts to their land and infrastructure from wet weather over the past months. 65% of respondents confirmed a year-on-year fall in profits.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has linked warmer, wetter winters in Britain to the climate crisis.

Farm productivity in several other nations has also taken a hit in recent years due to either hotter, wetter winters and/or warmer, drier summers. Rice yields have plummeted in key Asian geographies including India’s Kerala region due to unseasonably early and intense heatwaves, for example.

It bears noting that 83% of the fruit and 45% of the vegetables consumed each year in the UK are imported.

Despite this, the Food Security Index classes change as a “longer-term risk”. This has disappointed several green groups.

The Wildlife Trusts’ land use policy manager Barnaby Coupe said: “Yet again, our politicians have confined the impacts of a changing climate to the ‘long-term’, blind to the very real and very painful impacts it is having today.

“The unprecedented wet weather means production of major crops in the UK is down 21.2% this year. This is a short-term threat and must be treated with the necessary urgency…. If politicians continue to view these issues as only relevant in the ‘long-term’, then action will come too late.”

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) land analyst Tom Lancaster added: “The government characterises climate change as a ‘longer-term risk’. But any farmer trying to drill a crop or tend to their livestock this winter will know it’s a ‘now’ risk, not some theoretical concern for the future.”

Sunak did provide more information on how a £75m package to support drainage, announced at the NFU’s annual conference in February, will be allocated. He also confirmed a doubling of the post-Brexit Horticulture Resilience and Growth funding pot, to £80m annually.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw told the BBC these measures are not sufficient to address the “very real challenges” that farmers are facing presently, including flooding, low prices being offered by buyers and persistently high energy and fertiliser costs.

Bradshaw said the Government is “missing” a strategic long-term vision to rebuild farmer confidence and improve resilience.

While the Summit was taking place, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee quizzed experts about the UK’s climate resilience and the impact which poor adaptation planning would have on livelihoods and national security. edie will publish an article summarising the discussion on Wednesday (15 May).

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Politicians seem to be no better as farmers than they are as scientists.
    Hardly surprising after a few seconds thought.
    But then, what is new???

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