Part two of the National Food Strategy for the UK was published in July 2021, which set out a vision for a better food system for the UK in light of Brexit and COVID19. This document was an independent review and was asked to focus on both health and environmental resolutions, but nearly a year on it is still only a document with 14 thought-out, researched, focus-group-led recommended plans, and not a reality. The document can be found at its full length here and is free to download.
These are the sections that were focused on sustainable food systems in the UK:
Lower “ruminant” consumption
The review dwelt on the effects of meat, especially cattle, referred to as “ruminants” i.e. four stomached animals, on the environment. Many of the issues related to the land use of cattle rather than the emissions and water use, but it was still an important subject to focus on, especially in such a small country where there are demands for affordable housing arising every month.
“85% of total land that produces UK food is used to graze livestock or produce crops to feed to animals. We need some of that land back.”
National Food Strategy, page 11.
“We already ask a lot from the land of this small and densely populated country.”
National Food Strategy, page 155.
The recommendations, called “The Plan”, required a 30% drop in UK wide meat consumption, asking everyday people to swap a third of their meat portions for fruit and vegetables. This strategy is aimed to be a deliberate intervention at all levels, which means that both national and local governments would need to act, as well as the people themselves.
Support the creation of low-carbon farms
Farmers in the UK have been at the mercy of changing attitudes towards their work for the last decade, and do not have the resources to easily swap to the ways of farming that are expected of them. The government is a national superpower of money, and this plan asks that they spare some of their massive budget to fund the farmers into a new way of life. Anyone living in the UK over the last five years knows the pressure to “Buy British” has been put on the consumer to help out the average farmer, but there hasn’t been a big push for the government to Buy British too, even with Brexit.
“Some farmland will have to be repurposed or adapted for environment projects. Some will have to be farmed at lower yields to enable nature to thrive. Some will have to become higher-yielding, low carbon farms, using new technologies to increase productivity without polluting the Earth.”
National Food Strategy, page 155.
The plan explained the need for this as well as a detailed and budgeted solution, which explained the benefits of this on trade. It encouraged the UK to stand proudly and demand to only cut trade tariffs on products that fit in with our new environmental message. They backed this up with a quote from the Conservative Manifesto 2019, in which they wrote: “in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards,” so it cannot be seen as a big ask to deliver on something already promised.
Support data collection and start-ups
The example from the National Food Strategy for this section was an article by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan which praised the University of Washington for their malnutrition projects in Africa. “Without good data, we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”
“The UK must do more to foster our own start-ups or they simply will migrate abroad.”
National Food Strategy, page 160.
This also goes hand in hand with “Buy British” and the ideas that the UK was fostering around self-sufficiency in the build up to the Brexit vote. The National Food Strategy has asked the UK government to begin to focus on the collection of data that is fit for purpose and not filled with “jargon and dogma”. This would include studies into the food wealth gap as well as more environmental causes, and the creation of easily digestible and shareable models on land use and then use of the data and findings to invest taxpayer money into sustainable food production.
One Year On
“This is not a wish list of ideas that we hope might help. These are concrete proposals for immediate action, which we have explored in depth and are confident will work.”
National Food Strategy, page 143.
The Government had vowed a response to the National Food Strategy plan in May of this year, but there have been discussions that this may be unrealistic due to the conflict in the Ukraine.
“I think we will be dealing with a horrific cost of living crisis plus a migration crisis, and that will take up all the political space. So I wouldn't be surprised if it got pushed back to the end of the year.” Said Henry Dimbleby MBE, a non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
There are hopes that this will be reviewed before the upcoming local elections which would coincide with the originally promised date of May 2022, but after almost 11 months with no comment from the UK Government, it seems like just hopeful thinking.