Bishop of St Albans supports food security amendments to the Agriculture Bill

On 14th July the House of Lords considered the Government’s Agriculture Bill in Committee. The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, spoke in the debate on amendments focusing on food security.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I support a number of amendments in this group, in particular those that touch on food security, such as Amendments 35 and 60. Food security is crucial, both for our protection and for the flourishing and survival of any nation. History teaches us that food shortages have always occurred. They are often caused by many different factors and occur at an alarming rate. One of the earliest historical examples of this is found in the Hebrew scriptures, in Genesis chapters 41 and 42, where we read of Jacob storing up grain in Egypt ready for the seven years of famine. Not only did his actions save the lives of many, but underlying this narrative is the message that food is also about political power:

“And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

We are all aware that food security in the modern world is complex. The many advantages of an international market have meant that for most of the time food prices have been driven down and choice expanded. We know that many types of food would be ​both difficult and expensive to grow in this country due to our climate, so we will never be totally self-sufficient in food.

We have heard reference to publication of the report Hungry for Change from the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee just eight days ago. I note in that report the evidence given by Defra. It states:

“The ELMS proposes to reward a number of environmental ‘public goods’ with public money. The Government will support and reward farmers for providing improved environmental outcomes such as improved soil health and carbon emissions. The Department told us that the scheme may lead some farmers to move away from ‘traditional agricultural activity’.”

But the basic fundamental point of agriculture is to grow food and it is deeply worrying to consider that in under 30 years it is estimated that the world will need 60% more food than today. It is concerning considering that, at this very moment, we have vast swarms of locusts devastating crops in east Africa, Asia and the Middle East—an event of which we had no foresight a few months ago but which is likely to lead to extensive famines in the coming months. So I am keen to support these amendments, which support food security both for our good and for that of the international community.

Amendments 53 and 63 refer to food produced locally, including urban areas. We are trying to improve the environment, reduce transport and provide locally grown food, so these amendments are worth exploring. Both are supported by Amendment 69, which strengthens the Bill by changing “must have regard to” to “must support”. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these ideas and how Her Majesty’s Government might include them in the Bill.

The Minister, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, responded to the Bishop in his conclusion: The important report that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised, Hungry for Change, is very important, because this will involve multiple departments. I am therefore very pleased to say that I will make sure that Defra will play a key part in that multi-departmental response.


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