Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown champions British farming and urges farmers to seize the opportunity to sell our high-quality meat and dairy produce, produced with exceptional animal welfare and environmental standards, to exciting new markets across the world.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this timely debate during Great British Beef Week. I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as one of the few practising farmers in the House.
The Cotswolds has one of the most sensitive landscapes in the country and I have always proudly championed British agriculture. As a farmer who grew up on my mother’s dairy farm, I know from first-hand experience how the UK produces some of the highest quality food produce of anywhere in the world, with exceptional animal welfare and environmental standards.
As Britain secures new trade deals, we have the opportunity to promote that high-quality meat and dairy produce across the world, produced by our innovative, environmentally friendly farmers. After 40 years of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, we can now pursue new trading relationships. It is an amazing opportunity to shape the future of our farming, promote our interests and meet the needs and ambitions of British consumers in the 21st century.
In 2020, meat and dairy products combined accounted for 2.2% of UK goods exports and 3.1% of all UK goods imports. The current trade deficit is found in all categories, apart from mutton and lamb, which has a trade surplus of £0.1 billion. We now import roughly 50% of all that we eat, down from 65% when I was a student. The UK is about 85% self-sufficient in dairy production and beef, but 98% self-sufficient when it comes to lamb. We need to work to a point where it is not just lamb that is in surplus, but where we are near self-sufficient in many more sectors.
What is the difference between our lamb and beef sectors? It could partly be better marketing of beef, which is usually a more expensive option in the supermarket. The deficit is something we want to change with our new trading arrangements. Beef exports from the UK last year came to £382 million, with growing markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Peru and Canada. There is also growing demand in China for British pork, and in France for high-quality lamb produced in the Cotswolds.
British agriculture needs to increase and diversify its exports as much as it can in new international markets, after heavily relying on Europe. There is no reason why British food manufacturers cannot be innovative enough to create a wider range of products using British produce. That is especially the case for dairy-based products that are heavily imported, such as yoghurt and prepared desserts. That is unnecessary when we have such a strong dairy sector.
I urge farmers to take advantage of growing global markets. The Department for International Trade is launching a new mentoring programme, providing expert advice on trading internationally. Farmers in the UK are leading the world in finding innovative farming methods to farm in climate-change friendly ways, with the NFU pledging an ambitious net zero target by 2040.
The UK beef industry is one of the most sustainable in the world, with an extensive grass-based grazing system—not a cause of deforestation as in other countries, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said. The Committee on Climate Change found that the UK beef industry emits around half the greenhouse gases compared with the global average.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said, there are 278 million dairy cows worldwide. If they were all managed as efficiently as UK dairy cows are, we could shrink that number to 76 million and still produce the same amount of milk throughout the world. Around 70% of the British herd is on grass, and 65% of UK farmland produces some of the most productive grass in the world. That protects the character and identity of the countryside and generates an important income for rural communities. In the Cotswolds, which I have the privilege to represent, the distinctive, attractive landscape would not be the same without the raising of livestock, including the production of high-quality lamb, much of which could be exported.
Here in the UK, there is nothing better for the environmentally-conscious consumer who wants a balanced diet than to buy British. Not only does buying fresh local produce reduce greenhouse emissions from transporting produce; in addition the produce will be sourced from farms with sustainability at the heart of their practices. It is good to see some retailers increasingly championing UK products. I know, because I did a lot of the shopping during the lockdown, that Waitrose and Aldi have led the way on supporting British farmers throughout the pandemic. I hope that other supermarket chains will be encouraged to follow their example.
In conclusion, farmers can now set their ambitions well beyond the UK into exciting new markets. As they expand, they will have our full support in doing so.