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The Caterer

The UK must be self-sufficient in food

30 April 2010
The UK must be self-sufficient in food

The disruption caused by last week's grounded planes highlighted our reliance on imported produce, says BaxterStorey chief executive Alastair Storey, who believes our primary food focus should be on our own shores.

Last week's unprecedented events brought bubbling to the surface much ash and seemingly endless cloud. In its wake, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano reignited the debate surrounding the UK's dependency on non-British produce.

This ongoing discussion is one that seems to have fallen on deaf ears among those who govern the economic and regulatory environments in which our farmers operate but there can be no finer time for them to listen and act on what is needed.

Dependency for 40% of all foodstuffs from overseas makes no sense. Ours is a land rich with the ability to generate its own produce - but, sadly, it is today so desperately poor in infrastructure it can't yield the volumes we demand.

The arguments for local sourcing are myriad. The environmental benefits are well-documented and well understood, but we also should consider the positive impact local produce makes on the delivery of a skilled, creative, motivated national chef brigade.

Less cited but equally important is the impact it can have on obesity, and its ability to rejuvenate local communities.

Nobody would claim that a total cessation of imported produce is the right way forward; it's neither practical nor desired and it should not be forgotten that supporting other economies less fortunate than our own through this vital area of trade is one of the most positive routes we can take to assist their populations. However, our primary focus needs to be on our own doorstep.

Those retailers, caterers, restaurateurs or hoteliers who have made the move to buying British didn't suffer the concern, short-lived as it was, experienced by peers whose supply chains (often out of necessity rather than choice) take an altogether different structure. This surety of supply was the dividend reaped from our investment in British sourcing, but it is one that we should all be able to enjoy far more easily.

The no-fly week has delivered a timely and salutary lesson. Let's hope that the weeks ahead deliver us with a Government which learns from these events and which truly commits to rebuilding the UK's ability to rely more on produce from within its own shores.

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