Organisations representing the interests of farmers, growers, processors and manufacturers have asked government to recognise water as a vital ingredient of our food and crucial to the economic performance of the agri-food sector.
A new position statement, published by the Water for Food Group, says water is essential to grow and process high quality food and to sustain the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.
The group wants water for food production to be designated as an ‘essential water need’, alongside water for people and for energy, and to be prioritised accordingly by government - particularly in its proposals to reform water abstraction.
It says increasing water demands from other sectors, and a greater risk of water scarcity caused by droughts and climate change, already threaten the industry’s ability to sustain and increase efficient, high quality food production at affordable prices.
Growers of high value fruit and vegetables are particularly reliant on access to secure supplies of water.
CLA Chief Land Use Adviser Susan Twining said: “Secure and sustainable water supplies underpin the ability to grow food, but farmers and growers are increasingly vulnerable to stresses from shortages due to dry weather and a growing population.
“While Government is currently reviewing the system and making lasting changes to the future of water use, it is crucial that the importance of water for homegrown food is recognised alongside other uses so that water stresses are not transferred to other areas of the world to meet the food needs of our population.
“It may come as a surprise to many that water for food is not already classified as a priority, but this is a timely opportunity to take responsibility for our own consumption and put in place a system which is fair and sustainable for the future.”
Helen Munday, Chief Scientific Officer, Food and Drink Federation, said: “FDF fully understands the need to take action in those catchments where there is a risk of unsustainable abstraction, and to develop a system that can be more responsive to future pressures on our water resources.
“Any approach to this must recognise that water is essential for food and drink production. There is a clear link between water security and the Government’s broader priorities around economic growth and food security, including its wider ambitions for increased production and export growth in the agri-food sector.”
The Water for Food group is an alliance of organisations in the agri-food sector interested in the relationship between food production and water availability.
Of the organisations that make up the full group, those who created and signed up to the position statement are the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Potato Processors Association (PPA) and the UK Irrigation Association (UKIA).