Britain must produce its own fruit and vegetables

Britain must produce more fruit, vegetables and grain in order to be immune to growing food shortages around the world, according to a parliamentary inquiry.

The European Commission has pledged to take tough action against member states that adopt protectionist policies, but many MPs fear that countries may act in national self-interest.

A report from the Select Committee on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggests that British consumers should therefore be encouraged to have a greater variation in their diet, and to learn more about the environmental impact of choosing to eat meat and dairy products.

MPs believe that encouraging more people to eat the ‘5 a day’ portions of fruit and vegetables, as recommended by the Department of Health, could lead to higher fruit and vegetable production, as demand increases.

Currently, only 10% of the fruit consumed in the UK is grown here, despite ideal growing conditions for products such as apples.

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Michael Jack, Conservative chairman of the committee and president of the National Fruit Show, said: ‘This is a wasted opportunity for UK growers. With good storage, we could supply home-grown apples during the period when imports traditionally come from the southern hemisphere.

‘We expect people to have choice, but there is a revival in English orchards, and we should play to our strengths.’

Mr Jack suggests that local authorities should encourage the use of allotments, which have recently grown in popularity with the ‘grow your own’ movement.

The report also calls on the rural affairs secretary, Hilary Benn, to proceed with GM crop trials in order to see whether this farming practice can be sustainable. The report suggests that Mr Benn should find a way to handle critics of GM crops, such as The Prince of Wales, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Mr Jack said: ‘It may be that GM opponents and the people who have sailed beyond the law and trashed GM crop trials are right. But without proper trials we cannot establish the questions raised about impacts on biodiversity.

‘How will we ever know if plants are resistant to drought and disease in new climate change scenarios? Unless this country does the work now, we won’t know if we have the right shots in the locker.’

MPs are also urging Defra to investigate ‘food colonialism’, following rocketing food prices last year when wealthy investors were acquiring land overseas to grow food for consumers in the investor country.

Mr Jack noted: ‘If people go hungry then political stability goes out of the window. This is a key lesson that Defra must learn from last year’s food price hike, when some countries ran short of food. What happened showed just how fine the line is between full supermarket shelves and empty stomachs.’

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