20 February 2017 - Janet Bird
Morrisons is on the hunt for over 200 more UK based food suppliers in a bid to reduce our reliance on foreign produce.
The Big 4 supermarket, which says it is already "British farming's single biggest customer", is inviting local food producers to attend 12 regional events, the first of which will be in Yorkshire on March 14, to apply for a spot on its shelves.
Morrisons has been spurred into action after a report it commissioned found only 52 percent of what we eat comes from UK farmers. The study, by Professor Tim Benton, from the University of Leeds, also found 67 percent of UK shoppers would prefer to buy local.
The report warns that our reliance on foreign produce means increased frequency in severe weather events caused by climate change, or major shifts in the political landscape could compromise food supply.
Professor Benton cites recent shortages of fresh produce resulting from poor weather in Spain, where the UK gets more than 80 percent of its vegetables in winter, and the potential impact on global trading relationships of the Brexit vote and the election of US President Donald Trump as reasons for Britain to focus more on increasing local food production for local consumption.
Although there has been an increase in UK production of some high value crops such as strawberries, output of which increased by 125 percent between 1997 and 2006, the report points out that production of many of the 20 indigenous fruits and vegetables grown in the UK has fallen. Orchards, for example, now cover only 25,100 hectares compared with 113,000 hectares 50 years ago.
Indeed, while more than 80 percent of the eggs, meat and dairy and 62 percent of the cereals we consume are locally produced, the report reveals only 23 percent of the fruit and vegetables we eat originate from the UK.
Responding to the report, Morrisons chairman Andy Higginson said: "We want small UK food suppliers to become bigger ones and we also want to give our customers the option of more food that meets their local food tastes."