Statement on the Government’s National Food Strategy

By Earth Trust, June 2022

Last week the government published the long-awaited food strategy which has been developed in response to the Henry Dimbleby National Food Strategy Report last year.

The strategy supports some of the Dimbleby recommendations –  with policy initiatives to boost health, sustainability, and accessibility of diet to secure food supply, while also recognising the shared global challenges of the war in Ukraine and the impact of the pandemic on the global economy.

But, the strategy has been received with mixed response. Along with many others, Earth Trust is concerned about the watering down – or parcelling up – of the Dimbleby report recommendations, which risks abandoning ecological goals in favour of production.

Farmers and land managers are fundamental in determining what food is produced, to what standards, and the plates on which it ultimately lands; but we are led down this path by policy, by financial incentives, and the context of the markets that respond to national strategy. That is why getting Dimbleby’s recommendations right is so important – all other actions will follow.

At Earth Trust, our role as farmers and producers of food is a critical part of our identity and the greenspaces we care for, within the heritage and cultural context as well as how we demonstrate the financial make-up of greenspaces and the political incentives to farm with nature.

Our accessible natural greenspaces are multi-functional – delivering outcomes for public access, engagement, and science. As food producers within greenspaces, we have a part to play in advocating and demonstrating food production systems that supports our priorities of biodiversity, climate and health. Earth’s Trust principles of food and farming are focused on delivering impacts and outcomes for:

  • Nutritional food production – contributing towards the principles of the National Food Strategy.
  • Wildlife, nature and biodiversity – using practices that maximise habitat creation and conservation, strategies that conserve, restore and promote biodiversity across the ecosystem, but paying particular attention to those species that are priorities locally (in line with Nature Recovery Network/Local Nature Partnership) and nationally.
  • Minimising impacts on, but also delivering benefits for climate change – capturing and minimising carbon/nitrogen/methane greenhouse gases, while supporting greater resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding, drought and extreme temperatures.
  • Promoting human health and wellbeing including the provision and facilitation of public access and engagement opportunities for deeper connections with green spaces.
  • Creating more opportunities for engaging people with the environment through different lenses; including ‘business to business’ and ‘business to consumer’.

Govt Food Strategy

In the strategy foreword, Environment Secretary George Eustice recognises the impact the farming and food system has on the environment, stating that

“Our future agriculture policy will seek to financially reward sustainable farming practices, make space for nature within the farmed landscape, and help farmers reduce their costs.

Our future farming policy will support innovative solutions to the environmental challenges we face.”

Ian Nutt, Earth Trust’s Director of Programmes and Partnerships says

“A strategy is developed because all component parts are needed at scale to change the system – this is particularly relevant to the long-term approach needed to change aspects like population health and nature recovery.

Earth Trust’s farming practice, as part of our greenspace model, must include the production of food products as a contribution to healthy diets, as well as a demonstration of systems and practices that are positive for biodiversity and the climate.

While we welcome the strategy and its proposals to support British farmers and producers, we join those who are concerned that the connection between farming and the environment is not sufficiently supported with policy recommendations that will help achieve this aim.”

 

  • We hugely back the aspiration for 50% of public sector food to come from British and quality standard sources, but this needs to go far beyond a ‘debate’ and be backed at scale to drive the production markets. The ambition for more home-grown food needs to be better balanced with the incentives to do this, and the means to ensure that high quality British food is ending up on the plates of those who need good nutrition most.

 

  • The Government has removed measures that make it harder to import poor quality produce from abroad – missing an opportunity to obstruct imports of foodstuffs that are bad for the environment and animal welfare.  As a result, British consumers will be faced with a choice of buying poor quality imports at lower prices over British high quality produce that isn’t subsidised adequately by the Government to make it affordable.

 

  • The incentive payments overall are great in principle, but are not enough to cover the rising costs of food production, and do not incentivise the minimisation of food waste across the system. We need to retain incentives for longer term due to the nature of long-term effects it takes for soils to recover.  Investment for subsidies must be increased and go beyond the base level introduction of ELMS in 2028.

 

  • We applaud the land use framework proposal – but again, this must balance nature with the food production needs of a growing population – and not place one over the other. To optimise the maximum benefits of green spaces,  we urgently need more detail on what this framework includes – particularly in relation to increases in housing and infrastructure plans.

 

Food production and consumption underpin the health and wellbeing of the nation, through climate and biodiversity measures. Investment behind the strategy needs to be taken as seriously as government investment plans seen elsewhere in areas like technology, housing and social care.

Elsewhere at Earth Trust...

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