Government’s food strategy promises environmental protection, but provides little detail on how
UPDATED: A new UK food strategy aimed at combatting rising food costs, obesity and childhood hunger has been blasted by green groups for failing to incorporate efforts to enhance nature to respond to the climate crisis.
The Government has today (13 June) published its food strategy, aimed at combatting rising food costs and obesity levels while enshrining nature, conservation and regeneration into local food production.
The new strategy outlines steps to create “longer-term measures to support a resilient, healthier, and more sustainable food system that is affordable to all”.
Headline ambitions listed within the strategy include “broadly maintaining” domestic food production, halving childhood obesity rates by 2030, reducing the healthy life expectancy (HLE) gap and reducing emissions from the food system.
Prior to today’s publication, a leaked version of the strategy was obtained by the Guardian, which stated that the Government had largely ignored recommendations from the restaurateur Henry Dimbleby -a non-executive director of Defra – who based his research as to how the government can improve the environment while tackling obesity.
In his recommendations, Dimbleby called for a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption, which not only helps improve health, but builds on research that cutting consumption of these foods could reduce emissions.
In the publication, the Government makes no numerical reference to diet shifts. It does, however, note that “randomised control trials” will be introduced to develop “a suite of evidence-based and value-for-money interventions” to encourage sustainable diets.
Dimbleby has since told the BBC that more than 50% of his recommendations have been implemented in some one but that it ” hasn’t been done with one vision across the whole system.”
On broader environmental measures, the strategy notes that farmers and food producers will need to adhere to the Agriculture Act, Fisheries Act and Environment Act frameworks to introduce sustainable practices.
Labour responded to the leak strategy, branding it as “bordering on preposterous”, while Greenpeace labelled it “worse than half-baked”.
Commenting on the news, Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said: “With food prices soaring, there is a clear and pressing need to make the UK’s food system shock-resistant. Defra’s commitments to producing sustainable, affordable and healthy food are a welcome start, but must now take top priority across all of government.
“Words must be matched by urgent steps to drive the shift towards more plant-rich diets, ensure farmers have the support they need to accelerate the transition to nature-friendly farming in England, and set core environmental standards for all food sold here. What’s on our plates, wherever it’s produced, must be good for people and planet.”
WWF did welcome the Government’s proposed plan to introduce regenerative farming practices as part of a wider push to respond to the climate crisis, but more information on how this would work is required.
The Strategy reiterates a commitment to publish a land-use framework by 2023 to ensure that agriculture and food production are aligned to the net-zero target and biodiversity targets listed under the Environment Act.
Last year, a report from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) stated that land use in the UK must be dramatically transformed by the end of the decade if the UK is to meet its 2050 net-zero target, with space re-allocated from livestock to vegetables, meadows and hedges. This will result in all of us eating less meat and more plant-based foods.
Entitled ‘Farming for Change’, the report maps a “no regrets” route for the farming sector to align with the UK’s long-term climate vision in the coming years. Calculations are based on a scenario in which annual emissions from the sector decrease by around 40%, with offsetting used to address the remaining 60%. ‘Insetting’ through the creation of new forests and peatlands in the UK should, in the FFCC’s opinion, be the preferred option.
The report states that the amount of land available for “green and ecological infrastructure” including meadows and hedgerows will need to almost double by 2030. At present, only 2% of agricultural fallow land is being used this way.
Many of the recommendations in the report align with those of the Climate Change Committee, which published its land-use recommendations for net-zero in early 2020. Land use in the UK is responsible for 12% of national annual emissions and the majority result from agriculture.
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