Food critic and TV personality Jay Rayner launched an attack on supermarkets for ‘decimating’ British agriculture and reducing the nation’s self-sufficiency in food.
HIS remarks were made at the Taste Lancashire Food & Drink conference held this month at Holmes Mill, Clitheroe.
He has previously snubbed an invitation to share his expertise with the then Defra Secretary Michael Gove, opting to write a brutal open letter to the minister which went viral instead.
“I find it extraordinary that, in the correspondence inviting me to the meeting of food experts called by you, your colleague Fiona Gately said that Brexit would not be part of the discussion. She later retracted that verbally; said it was of course something we could discuss. The point I made to her then and I make now is that, where our food supply is concerned, Brexit is the only subject. It is implicated in every single aspect of our food supply chain and risks imperilling the very health of the nation,” the letter stated.
“Over the past 25 years, the self-sufficiency of Britain in food has declined to a greater, worrying degree.
“In the mid-90s, we were about 75% self-sufficient in food. There is actually no desire for us to be 100% self-sufficient in food, it is not a good idea, but we were at least 75% self-sufficient.
“Supermarket’s have given many good things to society but one of the things they have also done is completely undermine the agricultural base in the UK by forcing prices ever further down and down and down.”
He used the dairy and pig industry as examples and the impact on farmers. “It has damaged many sections of agriculture, and as a result, we are now at 60% self-sufficiency.”
“However, we obviously export some of our food, which means just slightly less than 50% of the food we eat in this country is actually produced here.”
Rayner warned the UK’s reliance on food imports in a changing world left the country vulnerable.
“There has been a massive explosion of the middle classes in Asia, China and India”, he said.
“They are consuming vast amounts of the meat we thought was ours. The supermarkets thought for many years they could just buy on the open market, and they are now finding themselves cut out around the world from all of those markets.
“Of all the things that were said to me when I was researching my recent article on the importance of migrant labour to our food supply chain, the one that stayed with me most came from Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation:
‘If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country’.