Over 90 delegates from across the food and farming industry, including suppliers, farmers, researchers, industry representatives and government officials, came together for the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Annual Conference at Barclays in Canary Wharf, to discuss the risks, solutions and opportunities available for delivering a more resilient food and farming system. The event titled, ’Safe and Sound? Food – Protection, Security and Defence’ offered a unique insight into the current state of food protection, security and defence in the UK and across the globe.
Chaired by Tom Heap, environment and rural affairs broadcaster, the event highlighted how the food supply chain is becoming increasingly complex and raised the discussion around the risks of intentional and unintentional contamination and vulnerability to our food supplies. Speakers talked passionately about the issues around consumer trust, expectations and safety in the food they buy and eat and how it is produced. They also examined what steps need to be taken to reduce the impact of food system vulnerability from growing incidences of ‘food fraud’, ‘food crime’ and ‘misrepresentation’ and how to build consumer confidence.
Caroline Drummond, LEAF chief executive said: “To ensure we optimise the capabilities of our food supply chain now and in the future, we need to ensure that we are sharing knowledge, utilising research and development and working together. There is also a need for us, as an industry, to address the issues around consumer trust in the food they buy. This is where food assurance schemes, like LEAF Marque, have a key role to play. As a leading global assurance system, LEAF Marque, recognises and rewards sustainable farming practices through building market and consumer awareness and demonstrating high standards of environmental care. Assurance schemes also empower consumers to make positive changes through their purchasing decisions.”
Minette Batters, NFU President said: “While incidences of food crime have far-reaching impacts on the agricultural sector, the vulnerability of crops and livestock to pests and diseases, and the authenticity of inputs and the demonstration of best practice, all play their part. Which is why it is critical for the farming sector to demonstrate its value and integrity to the consumer.”
Philip Wynn, LEAF chairman, delivered a concise and informative speech, which set the scene for the day. Philip explained that “With an estimated 9 billion extra mouths to feed by 2050[i], the need for us to identify the threats and vulnerabilities in our food and farming sector, and create a solution for these risks, is vital. The complexity and integrity of our food supply chain creates a further challenge, however, with new technology and with a united approach, there is no doubt that the farming industry can work together to encourage the change, opportunity and innovation needed to ensure our food chain is strong and resilient for years to come.”
Professor Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser, Food Standards Agency highlighted some of the science behind the threats to the UK’s food system and where policies, artificial intelligence and regulation can help. Specifically, Guy explained the importance of new technologies and methods, such as Blockchain, which has had a big impact on the food and farming industry, as a quick and secure way to share information. Delegates also heard about what the Food Standards Agency is doing to protect and defend the nation’s food.
In addition, attendees also enjoyed talks from Brian Irwin, chairman, Irwin’s Bakery Northern Ireland; Andy Mitchell, category manager, Sainsbury’s as well as a variety of discussion sessions with expert panel speakers focusing on issues around risk management, mitigation strategies and building consumer confidence.