UK Government to face legal challenge over Food Strategy’s lack of climate focus

Campaign group Feedback has launched a legal challenge to the UK Government’s Food Strategy White Paper, arguing that measures included are not sufficient to align the food sector with legally binding climate targets.


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UK Government to face legal challenge over Food Strategy’s lack of climate focus

Feedback is particularly concerned that Ministers haven't followed advisors' recommendations on reducing red meat consumption

The White Paper was published in June, around one year after Leon’s Henry Dimbleby provided his recommendations to Ministers for shaping the approach. The majority of Dimbleby’s recommendations were not taken on board, leading to widespread disappointment across the food space, including from environmental groups and organisations working to tackle issues such as child hunger, food waste and public health.

Dimbleby himself said the documents “did not set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and what needs to be done”. More than 40% of his recommendations got no mention at all, and many others were modified.

On environmental issues specifically, the UK’s agriculture sector is responsible for around 12% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and reductions have been minor over the past decade, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). It is also regarded as a contributor to land-use change that has driven biodiversity loss, with reductions in the UK’s wildlife abundance having proven the steepest in the past decade.

Feedback’s legal challenge to the White Paper is grounded in the argument that measures included are not sufficient to deliver emissions reductions consistent with the UK’s legally binding 2050 net-zero target an interim carbon budgets.

Like the Net-Zero Strategy, which was ruled to be unlawful following legal challenges from ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth, the White Paper contains no new time-bound, numerical targets for reducing emissions in the agriculture sector.

Feedback is also arguing that the UK will likely be unable to align the food system with its carbon targets without gradually decreasing meat and dairy production to some extent. Dimbleby  called for a target of a 30% reduction in red meat and dairy consumption on a per capita basis by 2030, which is more ambitious than the CCC’s recommendation of a 20% reduction within this timeframe. The CCC has also recommended a further 15% decrease in per-capita meat consumption between 2030 and 2050.

The White Paper contains commitment to scale funding for alternative proteins but sets no targets.

Representing Feedback is law firm Leigh Day, which announced this week that it has filed a claim for a judicial review of the White Paper at the High Court.

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, who is involved in the process, said: “Our client believes that there is something inherently wrong with the government promising to address carbon emissions as part of its food strategy, but then omitting any action on one of the biggest contributors to the problem, namely meat and dairy.

“The legal case focuses on the Government’s failure to take into account expert and independent advice. What is the value in having that advice, if the Government can effectively ignore it? Our client hopes to test these arguments in court.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees the White Paper, now has three weeks to submit its response to the review claim to the High Court in summary.

Leigh Day was the firm which assisted ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge to the Net-Zero Strategy. The High Court ruled in July that the Government did not consider its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act when developing the Strategy. Ministers will need to provide an update to the Strategy in the coming months, with a final cut-off point of April 2023.

Since then, the Government has also been threatened with legal action over its decision to approve the Sizewell C nuclear power plant, on the grounds that the project’s nature impact and water abstraction requirements have not been properly considered.

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