The Office for National Statistics said food prices increased by 19.1 per cent in the year to March, the sharpest jump since August 1977, with bread, cereal, and fruit prices soaring.
Minette Batters told the Environmental Audit Committee that farming “is seeing contraction in all sectors” due to a combination of rising prices for feed, fuel and energy and the failure of primary production to get into the bill discount scheme for energy intensive industries.
When asked if prices could begin to stabilise to pre-Ukraine invasion levels, Ms Batters said: “I don’t think we can give any assurance that things are going to change anytime soon.”
She added: “These costs are unprecedented in my lifetime. And actually looking at sort of the general economist views, I don’t think anybody’s seen anything like it since the post World War era.”
The select committee, which met on Wednesday to discuss environmental change and food security, also heard evidence from businessman Henry Dimbleby, who has previously led an independent review into the UK’s food system.
Mr Dimbleby said rising costs are putting more people at risk of food insecurity and forcing them to make less nutritious choices.
He said: “We should be thinking about security of nutrition, not security of calories. There are a lot of people in this country now, with the cost-of-living crisis, who are struggling to afford diets that will not just keep them alive but keep them thriving.
“If you think about freedom, health is the kind of ultimate expression of freedom, being able to survive, and there are real problems of food poverty at that end.”
Mr Dimbleby added: “I’m worried about what is going on for those who are living in poverty and I’m worried about the much bigger question of whether we can, as a nation, show the rest of the world that there is a way of producing food in an environmentally friendly way.”
One issue he highlighted, in line with relieving environmental pressures, is a need to reduce meat production.
He said 85 per cent of the land used to feed the UK is used to rear meat or plants used to feed animals.
But he added: “All of the focus groups we had when we talked about meat, there are a significant number of people for whom it almost felt like being a meat eater was quite a strong part of their identity.
“So there’s limited options for a government that wants to remain in power to move on meat.”