Is the environment secretary right that UK consumers should buy more British food?

It’s vital to encourage shoppers to buy more of the food we are producing here in Britain. As environment secretary Owen Paterson outlined yesterday, 24 per cent of the food we eat is imported, and the latest trade figures show we import more than we export. To tackle the country’s trade deficit, we must turn this around. Across Britain, there are millions of small businesses and suppliers offering quality locally-grown and sourced produce. And celebrating the diverse produce we have in Britain is important to create an appetite for our products across the globe, not just inside the UK. Our Keep Trade Local campaign aims to celebrate and raise awareness of this, getting consumers to recognise exactly what is on offer in their local communities. Our research shows that smaller suppliers are looking to expand in 2014. Buying more British products would not only allow these businesses to grow, it makes wider economic sense. John Allan is national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.
Government ministers shouldn’t be telling consumers how to spend their money. There’s nothing wrong with Buying British, if that’s what you want to do, but don’t feel like you should. Going out of our way to buy British produce won’t help the economy – and it might just make the country a little poorer. Trade makes us richer when producers specialise in what they’re best at. If farmers in sunnier countries are better at growing fruit and vegetables than British farmers are, buying their produce forces our farmers to specialise in the areas where they do have a comparative advantage. That doesn’t have to be farming, by the way. It’s a mistake to think that money spent on foreign imports is “lost”. Unless foreign farmers are burning their earnings from British consumers, every pound we spend abroad will make its way back as foreign spending on British exports. Don’t worry about Buying British: if you don’t, foreigners will. Sam Bowman is research director at the Adam Smith Institute.

John Allan

John Allan is the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.

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