Government sets out food policy

The government is to set out its first major food strategy since the Second World War, amid a storm of media reports which claim it will be urging people to go vegetarian.
Defra minister Hilary Benn is to launch the strategy, entitled Food 2030, at the Oxford Farming Conference this morning. However, the Daily Mail has already claimed the report will urge people to stop eating red meat – a claim denied by Defra, which said the report is urging people to eat a healthy and sustainable diet.

An excerpt from the report said: “Livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally, and there are some groups that advocate a diet with less meat as a way for consumers to reduce the environmental footprint of their diet. But the evidence to inform appropriate consumer choices and policy responses is currently unclear.”

However, the report also says: “The UK meat and dairy supply chains are international. Reducing emissions from meat and dairy through changes in production needs to be matched by changes to demand, to avoid simply exporting the climate impacts.”

The policy documents set out a case that the UK will have to change the way it produces, consumes and disposes of food, for environmental and health reasons.

Key elements include a "dig for victory" style initiative, reform of the CAP, supporting assurance schemes and clear country-of-origin labelling, as well as reducing food waste.

According to reports in the national press, the report gives backing to GM food and food miles is dismissed as an unhelpful concept.

Early reaction to the policy report was mixed. Sustain slammed it for “failing dismally to tackle the unsustainable nature of our food and farming system”. Coordinator Jeanette Longfield said: “What we have got is more of the same policies that have caused the food system’s current problems.”

However the Soil Association endorsed plans for more growing spaces, but it said the report’s messages about meat eating were misleading. Said policy manager Emma Hockridge: “While it is right that we need to eat less meat overall to achieve sustainable food production, red meat, as long as it is from grass-fed livestock, has a critical role to play in minimising carbon emissions from farming. This is because grasslands for grazing represent vitally important carbon stores.”

The National Farmers’ Union said the strategy provided a "useful blueprint for the future", but care was still needed. Peter Kendall, NFU president said: "This vision demonstrates that Defra has grasped the complex issues that are in play when developing a joined-up food policy and that it will provide much-needed leadership on food policy.”

"The whole food supply chain and government will need to work together to optimise productivity within an increasingly competitive framework if we are to improve the sustainability of the sector at the same time. This vision clearly sets out many of the challenges that the food system faces and indicates a number of possible solutions that farmers and growers will want to scrutinise as they think through the long-term direction of their businesses."

The report follows another controversial report, published at the end of last year, which urged consumers to eat less meat and encouraged farmers to cut livestock production by 30%. The government-backed report initially appeared to be endorsed by Health Secretary Andy Burnham who later distanced himself from its findings.