Government rejects suggestion to host an annual food security summit

The government has rejected recommendations from a group of cross-party backbench MPs to host an annual food security summit and to develop a suite of indicators on food security.

Earlier this year, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee published its report on food security. In a response published today, the government has dismissed the majority of the report’s recommendations. 

Specifically, the report recommended that the prime minister chair a dedicated annual summit on food security, with a focus on the five statutory aspects of food security as set out in the Agriculture Act 2020. 

The government dismissed this recommendation, highlighting that in May it hosted the The Farm to Fork Summit and stating that later this month it will be hosting an event focussed on global food security. 

The committee also recommended that the Cabinet Office undertake a “comprehensive review” of departmental responsibilities and structures regarding food policy. 

While the government said it agreed with the committee that there is a “need for policy coherence and for strong leadership on food-related issues”, it highlighted that DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency are already joint lead government departments. 

As such it said that DEFRA works closely with the Cabinet Office and other departments to ensure that food supply is “fully incorporated as part of emergency preparedness, including consideration of dependencies on other sectors.”

The Committee also recommended that the government should develop a suite of food security indicators. The government dismissed this recommendation and said that the existing UK Food Security Report already contains a suite of indicators. It highlighted that DEFRA is already in the process of preparing the next iteration of the report, which it said will be published by December 2024

The MPs also said that the government’s Land Use Framework, which is due to be published by the end of the year, should not be “overly prescriptive”. In particular, they said the framework should address the current balance of land use between that used for pastoral and animal-feed on the one hand, and horticulture.

The government said the framework will “provide a long-term perspective on the land uses required to deliver growth, net zero, climate change adaptation, nature recovery, food security, and economic infrastructure.” 

READ MORE: The Land Use Framework: What can you expect from it?

It also said it has considered the recommendations from the House of Lords Land Use in England Committee’s inquiry while preparing the framework.

“We intend for the Land Use Framework for England to help inform how we maximise co-benefits and support the delivery of resilient, multifunctional landscapes, which will be dependent on the local context and national needs.

“As the Food Strategy notes, there is not a direct correlation between UK land area farmed and agricultural output. 57% of agricultural output in England comes from 33% of the farmed area. We are seeking to deliver as much as we can on our limited supply of land, to meet our ambitious targets and commitments to improve the environment, deliver net zero and support food security,” the government said. 

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chair, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said that while the committee is “glad that the government says it takes all aspects of food security very seriously”, they “would have liked, in the interest of transparency, for the government to publish its detailed response to the recommendations made in the National Food Strategy Independent Review”. 

He added that the committee would have also liked for the government to commit to updating the UK Food Security Report annually. 

“The UK Food Security Report should be central to steering government strategy and policy making on food security and therefore should be as up to date as possible,” he said.