Coronavirus: Farmers highlight importance of UK self sufficiency

The National Sheep Association has urged the anti-farming lobby to 'think again' as Covid-19 causes mass panic buying
The National Sheep Association has urged the anti-farming lobby to 'think again' as Covid-19 causes mass panic buying

The coronavirus crisis has led farmers to highlight how important self-sufficiency is just weeks after a government advisor said the UK didn't need its own farming industry.

Treasury official Dr Tim Leunig was reported to have argued that the food and farming industry was not 'critically important' to the UK's economy.

In leaked emails obtained by The Mail on Sunday, the economic adviser to the Chancellor said the UK could follow Singapore's model post-Brexit - 'which is rich without having its own agricultural sector'.

But the National Sheep Association (NSA) has now urged Dr Leunig to 'think again' amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting panic buying.

The group highlighted the 'absolutely crucial role' of British farming and keeping food in front of the nation.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: "It can’t be condoned but panic buying is what many people do and in addition to medicines and toilet rolls it is food that is now bearing the brunt of this.

"Its also true that at the moment there is probably no shortage of food, its just not available to many and the nature of the supply chain means its easy for panic buying to take place and easy for replacements stocks to be slow coming through.

"If supply chains of domestic food are struggling, then it’s worth considering global supply chains and how they are easily disrupted and how ‘just in time’ can quickly turn into ‘not quite in time’."

He added that it is 'ironic' that so many retailers’ shelves are empty just two weeks after Dr Leunig’s advice was that Britain didn’t need farmers.

"I find it hugely sad that it takes a crisis such as the one we are experiencing to remind us of the importance of being able to feed ourselves and to contribute to feeding others," Mr Stocker added.

Occurrences such as Covid-19 have to act as a 'wake up call' due to the UK food supply chain's potential disruption, he said.

Challenges such as climate change, economic disruption, or serious political unrest could also disrupt the supply of food.

"It's not difficult to see all these things connected and related to each other," Mr Stocker said.

"If anyone tells you that farming here in Britain is not important, whether its Tim Leunig looking through theoretic financial lenses or George Monbiot looking through warped environmental ones then let's remind them that hungry people are not happy or healthy people."