In my opinion: No need to buy local – we can import food from the EU
"There's simply no excuse for not buying local".
Well, that was the headline on WMN ace reporter Martin Hesp's recent full-page article. But do Martin Hesp's arguments stack up? Well, not really.
To start with, the Westcountry food and farming industry would quickly go belly up if everyone in the UK "bought local", for the Westcountry has a small population. The reality is that Westcountry farming can only exist by making sure people in other parts of the UK buy Westcountry produce – and not produce that is local to themselves. Consider, for instance, someone living in London. Kent and Essex, Sussex and Surrey are all more local to London than Devon. Should not Londoners only buy from these local counties? Don't livestock farmers in these counties also want local people to buy local too? Indeed, a quick glance at a map of Europe shows that a vast swathe of France, Belgium and the Netherlands are much more local to London than the tip of Cornwall. If everyone in the UK were to only buy local, Westcountry farmers would be reduced to self-sufficient peasants scratching a living from their land.
Then look at Martin's use of the oft repeated statistic that the UK imports 40% of its food. So how can we reduce this? Well, the UK itself exports food, feed and drink at around two-fifths of the value of the food we import.
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We could produce more UK food if we released more land for productive agriculture, but where would this land come from?
The most obvious way to get this land is to get rid of the 988,000 horses that the British Equine Trades' Association estimate are in the country. Clearly the answer is to cull these useless animals. I await the comments from the farmer-friendly Countryside Alliance on my eminently sensible proposal.
But ultimately, should we even think it makes sense to talk about feeding this nation from our own land.
For heaven's sake, we are in the EU! The EU is more or less self-sufficient in food, and it is worth noting that the bread wheat shortfall of last summer's wetness was made up by imports from Germany. The UK is good at aero engines, software development and financial services; let those countries of Europe with surplus capacity such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria supply what we can't produce.
Is it time for Martin to think a tad less parochially. OK, I know this would upset UKIP-ers who want to bring back the "Dig for Victory" self-sufficiency of the Second World War. The Westcountry is good for livestock and the east of the UK is good for arable farming, though it is perfectly reasonable to grow arable crops here.
"Buy local" seems like a good idea, but it's not as simple as the sound bite from the likes of the NFU, the Conservative spin machine, fashionable food writers and even your ace reporter, Martin Hesp.