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Climate change could lead to food shortages say MPs

Sky News logo Sky News 16/09/2019 Becky Johnson, Midlands correspondent
a table topped with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables: 40% of UK food is imported © Imagebridge 40% of UK food is imported

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The UK's food supply could be at risk as a result of the impact of climate change on agriculture around the world.

MPs say the government needs to recognise the risks to national food security from importing 40% of food, including a fifth of fruit and vegetables from countries at risk of "climate breakdown".

The risks are heightened by uncertainty over trade after Brexit, according to the the report from the Environmental Audit Committee.

Its chair Mary Creagh said: "We are facing a food security crisis, exacerbated by uncertainty over the UK's future trading position with the EU and the rest of the world.

a man standing in front of a store: Simon Beckett says consumers will have to accept change © Sky News Screen Grab Simon Beckett says consumers will have to accept change

"Ministers must now publish all the information they hold from Operation Yellowhammer on food security and likely costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"More people are living in cities at risk from over-heating and water shortages, they're breathing polluted air, eating more fast food and getting less exercise. What's needed is a planetary health champion to put this agenda at the heart of government."

At Becketts Farm Shop just outside Birmingham the shelves are full of mainly local produce. But a closer look at the labels reveals that next to the English lettuce and tomatoes grown in Worcestershire are oranges from Spain and bananas from Jamaica.

The farm's managing director Simon Beckett says they import goods because customers have come to expect to be able to buy the full range of fruit and vegetables all year round.

He believes a move away from reliance on food from abroad will have an impact.

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"Consumers will probably have to accept some form of change," he said.

"Certain things they can get now won't be readily available, stuff we import. So bananas for example will not be readily available at all. But I'm sure that over time that agriculture will adapt, farmers always do.

"Glasshouses will go up and there'll be more of an annual production of produce."

MPs say the Government should be promoting healthier and more sustainable diets, including a reduction in meat and dairy.

Cattle produce methane and some farming methods increase greenhouse gas emissions further. Climate change leading to more extreme temperatures could threaten livestock due to an increase in disease.

At Coopers Hill Farm in Worcestershire Adrian Bytom has diversified, renting out buildings on his farm, in order to afford to farm fewer cattle in a more sustainable way. He believes that is how farmers will survive a move away from mass production.

a close up of a cow looking at the camera: Feeding cattle on grass not grain reduces the production carbon footprint © Sky News Screen Grab Feeding cattle on grass not grain reduces the production carbon footprint

"We need to be producing food in an environmentally friendly way, in a welfare friendly way and one that works with nature," he says.

"So if we can build soil that can capture the carbon then that is the way forward.

"We don't feed grain to the cattle, we just feed grass and its by-products so our footprint there is low because we don't feed grain, we don't feed any additives.

"If we don't plough the ground and we are using the nutrients from the cattle to build the soil we're capturing carbon in the soil."

A Government spokesman said: "We recognise the threat climate change poses to many facets of our national life, including our food production and supply, which is why the UK is the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050.

"We already have a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, and our National Food Strategy review is considering how we can further address the challenges of a changing climate and continue to deliver safe, healthy, affordable food now and for generations to come." 

Gallery: Major cities most at risk of rising sea levels (Stacker)

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