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Norfolk MP James Wild: Putin 'weaponising food' after blocking Ukraine’s ports

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Not content with indiscriminately attacking and killing people in Ukraine, Putin is now weaponising food.

Prior to his illegal invasion 43 million people were living a step away from famine but now Putin's actions have exacerbated one of the most severe food and energy crisis which threatens the poorest people globally.

Ukraine was one of the largest exporters of grain and vegetables meeting the needs of 400 million worldwide but Russia’s bombardment of infrastructure and blocking of ports has hammered Ukraine’s ability to export produce.

James Wild at Westminster Hall.
James Wild at Westminster Hall.

That is the context for the government’s food strategy published this week which rightly backs British farmers and food producers with the ambition to increase domestic food production. The UK is largely self-sufficient in wheat, most meats, eggs, and some sectors of vegetable production.

Sectors like soft fruit have moved towards greater self-sufficiency in recent years with an extended season displacing imports. Overall, for the foods that we can produce in the UK, we produce around 75 per cent of what we consume.

To encourage more domestic consumption the government will consult on an ambition for 50pc of public sector expenditure on food procurement to be on food either produced locally or to higher standards.

Combine out in the field.
Combine out in the field.

Farmers will be encouraged to harness new, innovative methods to boost home-grown fruit and vegetable production. A new £270 million investment across farming innovation funding programmes will unlock technology to drive sustainable farming techniques to increase productivity.

Access to labour is an issue that is regularly raised with me. When there are 1,600 people on unemployment benefits in North West Norfolk I always encourage employers to work with JobCentre Plus to fill posts.

But to address key gaps 10,000 additional visas will be released under the seasonal worker visa route, including 2,000 for the poultry sector. That means a total of 40,000 visas in 2022. For longer term solutions, a review will look at automation, domestic labour and migration.

By boosting our food security, including having more resilient supply chains we can reduce our reliance on food from overseas, create jobs, grow the economy, and protect against future shocks.

It was a food focused week in Parliament, as we debated legislation to allow precision breeding in plants and animals. Now we have left the EU, this is about using regulatory freedoms to accelerate genetic innovation that would occur naturally, or through traditional breeding, approaches.

The benefits are clear: disease resistant crops, for example sugar beet resistant to virus yellows; crops that require fewer pesticides, and crops that offer health benefits, such as tomatoes with higher vitamin D. This is not GM food which involves adding DNA from other species.

Given the importance of East Anglia, as Britain’s breadbasket, a centre for pig, poultry, vegetables, and horticulture, the focus on domestic production is welcome. And with Norfolk’s world-leading research establishments and gene editing businesses, largely based on the Norwich Research Park, we are well placed to benefit from this liberalisation.

James Wild

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