The UK should protect its food supplies just as the country is defended from attack by its armed forces, celebrity farmer Jeremy Clarkson has said.
Clarkson was speaking at an event in Westminster hosted by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which is calling on the Government to commit to not let Britain’s self-sufficiency in food production slip below its current level of 60%.
The NFU also wants more British food in public sector catering such as schools and hospitals, action to increase home-grown produce and help for consumers to buy British through filters and better labelling of online groceries.
The TV presenter-turned-farmer said levels of self-sufficiency should be maintained to ensure food security, pointing to the concerns people had about shortages at the beginning of the pandemic.
He said the country has a Ministry of Defence so that if it was attacked it was able to defend itself.
“We can none of us see that happening, we can’t see the Germans coming across the Channel or the Chinese, but we still maintain a significant air force, army and navy.
“Surely if you’re going to maintain that level of defence to protect us, you would want to protect our food supply.”
He said 60% self-sufficiency was “right at the bottom of the end of where you want to go, I think it should be much more like 80%, we’re capable of it, we’ve got the right climate, we have the right soil, we could easily do it”.
He added: “It should be as much encouragement as possible from the Government to the farmers to actually get it back up a bit.”
“It’s like saying if we had no army, and no navy and no air force, chances are we’re not going to get attacked – but we might.
“If you’re thinking about the country as a whole and looking after the people in it, you have to look after the farmers who provide the food.
“And I’d also ban the sale of avocados”, he joked.
Mr Clarkson, who has farmed for two years in the Cotswolds, an endeavour which has been made into a TV series for Amazon Prime, said the biggest challenges he faced had been the weather and form filling.
But he said he had enjoyed putting in ponds, and spending money on a beetle bank had been “£300 of happiness” to boost insects and birdlife.
Mr Clarkson suggested supermarkets could have pictures of how imported factory-farmed meat was produced alongside images of British-reared animals to encourage consumers to spend a bit more on good, homegrown food if they could.
He said the Government’s drive to switch from EU subsidies to payments that provide “public money for public goods” was a meaningless slogan, as farmers had not been told what it is – and so they could not plan.
While he said he had been annoyed when neonicotinoid pesticides were banned – over the harm they do to bees – because it would affect his oil seed rape crop, last year was not too bad without the chemicals.
He said he had millions of bees, putting in ponds had boosted dragonflies, and birdlife had increased in just 12 months, with flocks of goldfinches, as well as lapwings, grey shrike and woodpecker on his farm.
“Just by doing those tiny bits, putting in those beetle strips – I know Kaleb (his farmworker) says as far as I’m concerned you’re just chucking £300 away, but if I get £300 of happiness from knowing there are insects in there and they’re doing their bit, and then birds are coming, that’s all good.
“Everything is just better on the farm since I started paying just a little bit of attention, which didn’t actually cost that much money to do.”
He added: “Ponds are very good for the environment and they’re fun to make.
“I enjoy it, insects come and I enjoy watching the birds, I think that’s a good message to get out there to farmers.”
On his experiences over the past two years, he said: “As far as I can see weather is a really big challenge, I don’t know whether it is climate change or whatever it is but the last two years have been bonkers.”
He said: “The weather keeps me awake every night, and then form filling. That’s what I really do for a living, I get up and fill forms.”
NFU president Minette Batters has urged the Government to deliver a comprehensive report into food security and take action to show it is serious about boosting sustainable food production.
“British farmers could increase the industry’s economic contribution and provide more nutritious, affordable, climate-friendly British food for UK shoppers and people across the world, all while bolstering domestic and global food security,” she suggested.