Sunday, August 16, 2009

Booker on food security

This week's column has a go at Hilary Benn's fatuous food security report, pointing out, amongst other things, the role of the EU in our food policy.

One of Benn's few tasks (which his ministry performs with stupendous inefficiency), Booker reports, is to hand out to farmers the £3.7 billion a year we get back from Brussels in subsidies. What we are never told, however, is that British taxpayers at the same time shell out £5.3 billion a year for farmers in the rest of the EU; so that for every two pounds our farmers get, we hand over nearly three to their competitors.

When you add the dual threat of the EU's Pesticides and Water Framework directives, which is materially going to affect our capability to produce food, to say nothing of the scourge of badger-induced TB in our cattle population – plus other issues mentioned by Booker – the whole idea of Benn's initiative dissolves into a miasma of vacuity.

The interesting (some might say appalling) thing though is the general absence of press and political comment on this report – the one depending on the other. But since food policy across the whole spectrum, from production to food labelling, is determined by the EU, there is very little for the politicians to say – short of demanding that we get out of the EU.

Once upon a time, farming and food production used to occupy a central part in our politics but now, not only are the politicians silent, the main newspapers do not even hire agricultural correspondents any more. Food production, as an issue, has almost entirely dropped out of the public consciousness.

This is, of course, dangerous. Although we may have outsourced policy to Brussels, and subsidise foreign farmers to a greater extent than our own, we still have to eat and are still reliant on a fragile chain to bring food to our tables.

It may not matter now, while food is still plenty, that we are so careless of the industries that supply it but in the fullness of time, when (not if) shortages arise, there will be much lamenting and beating of breasts. And what will little Cameron do then, poor thing?