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Guide to British Food & Farming

Guide to British Food & Farming


For an interesting live infographic on food production in the UK. 

Did you know…?

  • The UK food sector is defined as food manufacturing, food wholesaling, food retailing and non-residential catering. The agri-food sections is the food sector plus agriculture and fishing.
  • Food and drink manufacturing is the UK’s largest single manufacturing sector. [Food and Drink Federation Statistics at a Glance]
  • The agri-food sector contributed £103 billion or 6.9% to national Gross Value Added in 2013, and accounted for and 13% of national employment in 2014. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015.
  • The combined market share of food and non-alcoholic drinks of the largest four food and drink retailers was 58% in 2013, down from 62% in 2012.  Tesco commanded the largest market share at 22%, a decrease of 2% on 2012.  The three largest discounters (Aldi, Iceland and Lidl) had a combined market share of 9.9%, up from 7.9% in 2012 [Living costs and Food Survey (LCFS) 2013].
  • The food sector in GB employed 3.4 million people in Q1 2015 (3.8 million if agriculture and fishing are included along with self-employed farmers), a 4% increase on Q1 2014. It covered 11.9% of GB employment in Q1 2015 (13.4% if agriculture and fishing are included along with self-employed farmers). [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015]
  • The industry is a key partner for British farmers: buying two thirds of all the UK's agricultural produce. All this economic activity is carried out by 6,705 food and soft drink enterprises (7,835 including alcohol) – many of which are small companies employing less than 10 people. [Food and Drink Federation Statistics at a Glance]
  • Food Production to supply Ratio provides a broad indicator of the ability of UK agriculture to meet consumer demand.  A high production to supply ratio fails to insulate a country against disruptions to the supply chain.   The UK ratio in 2014 was 62% compared with 60% in 2013.  The EU as a whole has a Food Production to Supply Ratio of around 90% [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015]
  • The value of imports is greater than the value of exports in each of the broad categories of food, feed and drink except Beverages which had a trade surplus of £1.27bn in 2014 largely due to exports of Scotch Whisky.
  • 15 million tonnes of food and drink was wasted in the food chain in 2013 in the UK. The highest proportion was waste in households, with 7 million tonnes thrown away in 2012. Of that figure, 4.2 million tonnes was avoidable waste, 1.2 million tonnes was possibly avoidable and 1.6 million tonnes was unavoidable. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015]
  • The cost to the UK of avoidable food waste in 2012 was £12.5 billion, approximately £9 per household per week. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2015]


UK self-sufficiency in food production

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) uses figures collected by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to produce summary statistics on UK imports and exports of food, feed and drink.

Since 1956 they have produced statistics showing the UK’s annual food production to supply ratio (commonly referred to as the “self-sufficiency” ratio). The self-sufficiency ratio is calculated as the farm-gate value (net value of the product when it leaves the farm) of raw food production divided by the value of raw food for human consumption.

The latest provisional stats for 2013 show:

  • UK food production to supply ratio for all food is 60%.
  • UK food production to supply ratio for indigenous food types is 73%.

This compares with 62% and 77% respectively in 2012 and show a further decline compared to 1991, when it peaked at 71% and 87%.

The origins of food consumed in the UK in 2013 (based on the farm gate value of unprocessed food):

  • Dairy products and egg – three countries accounted for 90% of supply, of which the UK supplied 85%.
  • Meat and meat preparation – three countries accounted for 90% of supply, of which the UK supplied 84%.
  • Cereals and cereal preparation (including rice) – twelve countries accounted for 90% of supply, of which the UK supplied 49%.
  • Fruit and vegetable – twenty-four countries account for 90% of supply, of which the UK supplied 22%.

The food production to supply ratio provides a broad indicator of the ability of United Kingdom agriculture to meet consumer demand - also described as competitiveness. The ratio is not an appropriate measure of “food security” since it fails to account for many dimensions of this complex issue.

[Information and data from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/overseas-trade and https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/food-statistics-pocketbook] 

UK Food Security

Food security has been defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as:

When all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

According to the Food Security 2nd Report of Session 2014/15, issued by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in July 2014, ‘The UK currently enjoys a high level of food security, but this situation will not last unless the Government plans now for future changes in our weather patterns and the changing global demand for food.’

[The full report can be downloaded from http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/food-security/]

Both domestic and international factors (such as climate change, population growth and energy supply) affect production and prices for consumers, as became evident during the world food price spike of 2008, when the cost of cereal rose by 130%, and further increases in subsequent years.

[Data on the 2008 food price rises from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7284196.stm]

Based on a 60% self-sufficiency ration, the NFU calculated that the UK would have enough produce to last 219 days in a year.

[Data from http://www.nfuonline.com/back-british-farming/news-channel/its-time-to-back-british-farming/#GrillPhil]

Useful farming and food production terms

Organic - The most environmentally friendly food source, buying organic means you are purchasing food produced free of most artificial pesticides, bioengineering, antibiotics and growth hormones. Furthermore, organic livestock have been kept to strict, high welfare standards with almost all of their lives spent in the outdoors.

Free-range - The definition can vary depending on location, but generally, buying free-range means that the animal has lived a happier life with good access to space, drinking troughs and shelter. Although livestock may be brought indoors either at birth or to be fed, free-range means there has been some level of access to pasture for a proportion of life.

Grass-Fed - Applicable to Beef products, the term denotes that the vast majority of the diet consisted of grass. With a lower-stress lifestyle and access to an open-air environment, the meat is often leaner and richer in nutrients.

Outdoor bred - Found on pork products, ‘outdoor bred’ means that pigs are born outside and then are then brought indoors for fattening after a few weeks. They are usually kept in a system with plenty of bedding material such as straw and are free-range.

Outdoor reared - Similar to the above, an ‘outdoor reared’ pig is one that has lived outside for three months before being brought into open-walled sheds before their last three months.