What does British food self-sufficiency mean?

Self-sufficiency Day 2020 graphic_74516

The government's ambition for a 'green recovery' from COVID-19 is a golden opportunity for British farming to become a global leader in delivering food security and set the benchmark for sustainable food production around the world. 

Economists calculate the country's food self-sufficiency figure based on a number of statistics, and the latest figures indicate that UK farmers and growers produced 64% of all the food eaten by people in Britain during 2019. This compares to 78% in 1984.

In 1984, there was enough food produced in Britain to feed the nation for 306 days of the year. Today, that figure is 233 days, making 21 August 2020 the day that the country would run out of food if we were relying solely on British produce. But what does this actually mean and could we be producing more? 

While the UK will never be able to produce everything we need and want to eat, it is vital that the government recognises the important role British farmers play in producing food for our growing population. And equally that it does not grow to rely on importing products from other parts of the world which may not have been produced to the high animal welfare and environmental standards that farmers work to in the UK.

Did you know that the UK is:

  • 18% self-sufficient in fruit
  • 55% self-sufficient in fresh vegetables
  • 71% self-sufficient in potatoes

For both vegetables and potatoes, self-sufficiency has fallen by 16% in the past 20 years.

While the nation is encouraged to be healthier and eat more fruit and vegetables, our domestic production of these products falls below our potential.

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The President of the NFU, Minette Batters, has spoken about the importance of the government supporting British farmers to produce sustainable food:

"Imports will always play a crucial role in our food system but our own self-sufficiency must be paid more attention by government. It is stagnating. We sit now at only 64% self-sufficiency, having fallen from over 75% in the mid-1980s.

“The entire economy is now aiming to build back better, to build back greener. British farming can be central to that green recovery. We have a golden opportunity to place food security at the centre of our food system and become a global leader in sustainable food production."

See what Mrs Batters said about the NFU's call for the government to source British food where possible to serve in schools and hospitals, and how you can play your part by buying British when you're out shopping:

Get involved in the conversation on social media

We are using social media to spread the word about Britain's declining food self-sufficiency, and asking people to show their support for British food and farming by joining in the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Help us to increase public awareness of this crucial issue by sharing our Facebook post and encouraging your family and friends to become Back British Farming supporters.

Related categories: Back British Farming Food standards

Last edited: 21 August 2020 at 12:12

Have your say

Jean Kreiseler - 31/08/2020 16:57:56

There is a dilemma with choice and variety of basic foods. I like rice - all varieties- and realise that is imported. So I stop having it, but if we all do so we put the growers in other countries farmers out of business. I love snap peas which seem to come from Kenya. I stop buying their's and put their growers out of business. What is the answer?

David Jones - 31/08/2020 14:46:03

Sorry meat producers , I mostly live on fruit, vegetables and some fish. However i do feed my family on a varied die that includes meat several times a week. ALWAYS READ THE LABELS, find out what the producers are putting in your food and make an informed decision. I cannot believe anyone would want to unknowingly or intentionally want to poison their children. I do not understand why the government seem to want to let any food stuffs into the country from substandard sources especially USA. I expect they just want to support their big business food processing buddies to make more profits to donate to them ! My advice, if your local politician does not support your position on food safety, hygiene, processing, additives and sourcing, tell them you won't vote for them.

Fiona Hunter - 24/08/2020 10:15:59

It is not always possible to keep stringently to British but wherever it is it is SO MUCH better for everyone to have products as fresh and "untampered" with. Great Britain is the most wonderful producer of SO MUCH of our daily needs.

Dawn Mcwilliam - 24/08/2020 10:00:03

I normally buy british anyway because i like to know that my beef etc... has been maticulously looked after by our british farmers who actually care about what we are eating, even if it costs more. Thanks farmers i appreciate ya!! :)

Jeffrey r hodge - 23/08/2020 14:55:56

Have we learnt nothing ,food crisis 1914-18 and then 1939-53 (people don’t seem to know that food rationing did not finish to 53,we need to shop local,support independent retailers ,bring back domestic science in schools ,I learnt with my mother and nana on a old range ,both my sons cook and grow their own veg ,eggs,fruit and honey ,pick stuff and use your freezer for surplus and most important eat seasonally ,when it’s gone it’s gone ,.

Andy McLachlan - 23/08/2020 13:58:25

People have short memories at the height of the pandemic the shortages at the supermarkets forced the public to source locally this was really successful the fact that the supermarkets control the price the producers receive by keeping the price low they are in fact discouraging producers to increase productivity this is evident in the dairy industry and more recently the beef sector and sourcing the shortfall from imports which then opens the door to imports of products from lower welfare systems not to mention the gm products and hormone treated meat we desperately need an organisation to co ordinate the marketing of British produce and break the hold of the supermarkets that they have on suppliers

Gill Mariacher - 22/08/2020 19:42:32

It is so important to engage/inform young people. They are so vegan/ vegetarian/ whatever but have no real understanding of how their trendy veggies/ fruit are produced. They think they are saving the planet because they are so against livestock farming but actually have little knowledge of how a good farm works.

John Eaton - 18/08/2019 14:40:58

I totally agree that the UK should not fall below 61% self food productivity. NFU are right to ask the British Government for assurances. However, while some farm owners continue to sell off hectares of productive farm land for housing development, our ability to maintain relative self sufficiency will continue to be eroded, irrespective of the Brexit outcome. The NFU need to actively ‘reel in’ its members in this respect and to lobby Parliament if we are to maintain our national farming heritage. Kind regards John Eaton, Chair CPRE West Wiltshire.

Lilian Bridges - 18/08/2019 14:12:10

I do buy British wherever possible, if not available I opt for commonwealth produce, including wines and cheeses!

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