Nature charities ‘excluded from UK Government’s food security summit’

The Wildlife Trusts and WWF have criticised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for not inviting more environmental charities to the Farm to Fork Summit, which is being hosted this week to convene food businesses on building resilient supply chains.

Nature charities ‘excluded from UK Government’s food security summit’

Image: David Bebber for WWF UK

The Summit will take place on Tuesday (14 May) and will see the Government presenting updated data on the state of food security to bodies from across the industry. This is known as the food security index.

The Prime Minister will also provide more detail on some new funding, plus the allocation of already-promised funding, for flood resilience projects and schemes designed to make careers in farming more attractive and sustainable.

Decision-makers from policy and the private sector will also have the chance to discuss how they are facing food security risks such as the Russia-Ukraine war and extreme weather. The period between October 2022 and April 2024 was officially the wettest 18-month stint recorded in England and has impacted the production of crops including wheat and barley. Meat production has also been impacted.

The UK Government has not released a full list of invited organisations for the summit but did name Tesco, Aldi and McCain Foods as attendees.

The Wildlife Trusts has claimed that no nature conservation charities will be in attendance and accused the Government of being “tone deaf” to the risks to food systems which these organisations specialize in – namely habitat degradation, nature loss and climate change.

WWF has made the same accusation. The NGO’s head of policy Alec Taylor told edie: “One year on from the Government’s first Farm to Fork summit, the droughts and flooded fields have laid bare the risks of climate change to food security.

“It is increasingly clear that the costs of not acting will be much higher than the costs of acting. In that regard, the summit would surely have benefited from the specialist knowledge of environmental organisations who have not received an invite yet again.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said there would be “no winners in maintaining the status quo” in the food system and advocated for attendees to support “a decisive transition towards food security policy rooted in a thriving natural world and free from dependencies on fossil fuels”.

He raised the risk of policymakers and large businesses, in the absence of guidance from environmentalists, plumping for “superficially attractive” targets to increase domestic food production that could only be met with more industrial agriculture.

“Continued intensification has not even delivered good incomes for farmers, as farmgate prices remain catastrophically low,” he said. “Continuing on this path will drive further decline and only mean the problems created by climate change are intensified by degraded habitats, poor soils, and polluted waterways. “

WWF’s Taylor took the same stance, stating that production targets would be a reductive way of tackling the sector’s multiple environmental and social sustainability challenges.

A Downing Street spokesperson said this week’s summit “is just one example of engagement” with organisations across Britain’s food system and stated the Prime Minister’s wish to “keep up the dialogue with all parts of the industry”.

Environmental writer David Burrows said that, if the summit is dominated by large businesses, the outcomes risk being “reactive” and the summit could amount to “the PR stunt to end all PR stunts” rather than driving the necessary changes for a food system that is resilient in the long-term.

Farmers’ thoughts

The news narrative in recent months has pitted farmers and environmentalists against one another. Farmers have protested in the UK and in Europe under the banner ‘no farmers, no food’.

Fears around forthcoming environmental reporting requirements and changes to payment schemes intended to support nature are part of the cause of the discontent, but other factors are at play. Farmers have also bemoaned a lack of government intervention to support with higher energy and fertiliseer costs and the fact that supermarkets have, broadly, not increased offers to farmers in line with inflation.

A poll of 434 UK-based farmers commissioned by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has today (13 May) revealed that most farmers are not against the introduction of progressive green policies.

Almost three-quarters (72%) said they support the introduction of policies necessary to achieve the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

And only 16% said new farmer payment schemes linked to nature conservation and restoration are a top-three challenge at the moment. Low prices paid for produce, rising energy costs, extreme weather and increased post-Brexit export costs were all determined to be far bigger issues.

The ECIU’s land analyst Tom Lancaster said: “Given the torrid run of droughts and floods we’ve had in recent years, it is unsurprising that farmers are even more concerned about climate change than most. They’re on the climate coal face, battling the increasingly harsh elements day in, day out.

“Fundamentally. we need to get to net-zero to ensure our future food security. The strong support amongst farmers for this policy should give this and future governments the confidence they need to move faster towards this goal.”

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