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From the Chief Executive - September 2019

January 2018 saw the launch of the Food and Drink Sector Council, a formal industry-led collaboration with government composed of businesses and organisations from every part of the food chain. Among the Council’s strategic priorities are agricultural productivity, nutrition, exports, workforce and skills, innovation, logistics and packaging. Quoting from the gov.uk website; ‘The Council will be a mechanism for the industry to engage with government in order to increase the sector’s productivity.’

This is an opportunity for the sector as a whole to work strategically with government to find ways to address many critical challenges facing us all, relating to food and nutrition.

This was followed in June this year by an announcement that Defra is to ‘lead the first major review of the UK food system in nearly 75 years.’ This review is to be led by Henry Dimbleby and is expected to result in a national Food Strategy for England.

These are both significant developments that demonstrate the importance of food to the UK economy and, more importantly, in ensuring the security of our food supply into the future. 

Underpinning both initiatives are two critical factors – the availability of sufficient skilled people and investment in science and technology. Both are critical if we are to guarantee the continuous supply of safe, nutritious and affordable food.

During the early considerations around Brexit, IFST wrote to the Government to demand that any future Brexit negotiations should not jeopardise the UK food system’s access to appropriate skills in food science and technology. Another of our demands was that, beyond Brexit, the UK should continue to have access to European research funding and continue to play a full and active role in future research collaborations.

Over the last few months though, since even before the original March Brexit deadline, we have heard very little about how these two challenges are being addressed, which is concerning. I was very pleased, therefore to receive a circular email from George Freeman MP this week, seeking support for his demands from government for a much bolder vision and manifesto for UK science, technology and innovation.

George has always been a very vocal advocate for science and technology having served as Minister for Life Sciences at the Department of Health and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills until 2016. It was particularly encouraging, therefore, to see George refer to Agri-tech within his examples where science and technology can make a difference. Food is often overlooked.

So, even though there is still no certainty over the future path for Brexit, perhaps it is time to start shifting the emphasis of the debate back to constructive issues, such as the importance of the provision of significant investment in food science and technology.

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