A few months ago I launched a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb. Our livestock industries face many challenges and I hope this group will act to raise awareness of the importance of beef and lamb to the UK economy.
However, I also believe that farming faces a range of new challenges that must be addressed if we are to continue to feed a growing world population. On the 30th October I am speaking at the EBLEX Annual Conference where I hope to outline some of these challenges and the role that Government should be playing to support our livestock industry.
The beef and lamb farming sector, along with the other allied industries is also a huge source of employment and contributor to our economy. Last year the beef sector employed 55,035 in farming and a further 388,714 in the rest of the beef supply chain whilst the sheep sector too employs around 33,945 in farming and a further 111,405 in allied industries.
The economic value generated by the beef and lamb sectors combined in this country last year was £6,729.5 million. What is more the benefits a really felt in the rural economy, a hard-to-reach for Government support. The beef and lamb industries support all sorts of industries in the countryside and allow rural communities to survive.
Farming, and in particular livestock farming, is also an integral part of British culture and the back bone of any rural community as anybody who has been to a country show over the summer will tell you.
But these are increasingly tough times and the beef and lamb sectors are facing a diverse range of challenges. The world population is growing to a critical point and it is predicted that by the year 2050 there will be 8.9 billion people in the world.
Meeting this growing demand is exacerbated by developing nations with a growing middle like India and China are eating more beef and lamb, although this is also an opportunity for British farmers to seize.
We are going to have to produce more food with less agricultural land available and with limited water supplies whilst trying to adapt to the effects of climate change. In the UK the amount of agricultural land available has decreased from 39% to 25% between 1989 and 2009.
The livestock sector has been working hard to address these challenges with Government. Some two thirds of the farmland in England and Wales are actively managed under agri-environment schemes playing a key role stewarding our environment and maintaining our waterways and protecting habitats for British wildlife. However, it is important that these existing schemes are included in the “Greening” requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Overall the Government must reduce and improve regulations that are costing upwards of £5 billion each year and give Parliament more scrutiny over EU regulations coming in.
The Government must also invest in improved biosecurity measures. Newly emerging livestock diseases are a real threat to our food security. Schmallenberg Virus, which affects both sheep and cattle, has shown how quickly vector borne viruses can spread from the European mainland to the UK. We must have a effective disease controls in place if we are to respond effectively to a pandemic.
Neil Parish is Member Parliament for Tiverton and Honiton. He is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and Chairman of the 1922 Backbench Environment Policy Committee, which plays a significant role both in policy formation and acting as a channel of communication between backbenchers and ministers.
Before entering Parliament Neil was a farmer and Member of the European Parliament for the South West for ten years. During his ten years in the European Parliament Neil was the Conservative Spokesperson on Agriculture, Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and was instrumental in setting up the yearlong European Parliament's public Inquiry into the Foot and Mouth Outbreak.