The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, in a report on its investigation into food security, said it is increasingly concerned about the threat to soy supply posed by projected higher demand for protein from emerging economies such as India and China.
“In view of the significant strategic risk and cost the UK is exposed to in relation to its animal feed imports, we recommend that the Government give higher priority to research to enable us to source more of our animal feed from within the EU,” said the report.
Reliance on soy imports
Professor Tim Benton, from the University of Leeds, told EFRA.
“You can certainly see, with respect to China, the dietary transition has been huge over the last 25 years or so, and the amount of meat and dairy that is being consumed has gone up about fivefold per capita.
The end result of that is they are importing, for example, huge amounts of soy from South America. We also rely on soy, primarily for putting in processed foods and for most livestock food."
Meat industry threatened
Professor John Beddington, the author of the Foresight Report on feeding future populations and previously the UK government's chief scientific adviser, told EFRA the issue is about margin:
“It is whether, in fact, pig production or chicken production is going to be profitable in the UK if you are importing grains or soya to feed at what is a very high price.”
Minister for Farming, George Eustice, giving evidence to the inquiry, reiterated the UK government’s support for open markets and free trade but said more could be done to produce animal feed there.
Legume crop production
He proposed the production of more legumes as a way of increasing local protein sources, and said new rules under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) might also encourage diversification into using legumes as break crops.
Eustice said the UK government had put £18 million into research through the Technology Strategy Board to explore ways the livestock industry could reduce reliance on protein sourced overseas.
However, environmental organizations such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth told EFRA the solution to the problem is for the developed world to eat less meat.
GM debate needed
The EFRA Committee also said the Government should do more to inform the public about the potential beneficial impacts of growing genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK, citing the “extremely rigorous” nature of the EU GM approval process and its ability to guard against cross-contamination.
It called for the government to encourage an evidence-led public debate about GM crops to counter food safety fears about the consumption of GM.