Imagine if…the Government had a sustainable food and farming strategy

9th July 2014

OK… a UK Government strategy for sustainable food and farming would not solve everything. But it would be a useful start.

What we have now is a piecemeal approach that seems to focus on increasing food exports, intensifying production and keeping Big Food happy. This is a major obstacle to ensuring our food system protects and enhances our health and the environment, and promotes sustainable farming and global food sovereignty.

MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published the findings of their food security inquiry last week (to which I gave evidence). They too wished that the Government had a “coherent approach to this important issue”. Wales has a food and farm strategy  which is facilitating an integrated approach. What about for the whole UK?

Listen to the science

The evidence is overwhelming that we need a better approach. On the BBC’s QI, facts may change over time*, but in terms of the science around food production, the evidence is continually building to show how harmful the current system is (see box below).

Despite this, we’ve got no decent, joined up, food and farm strategy to deliver climate change mitigation or help farmers to adapt; to reduce dietary diseases; or to protect nature and the land. Meanwhile there’s the badger baiting, flooding crises and our pollinators are waiting for a decent protection strategy.

Elephant in the room

One issue remaining a bit of an elephant in the room, despite extensive evidence of harm, is that of unsustainable diets. Without getting the UK population on the path towards eating more sustainably with less and better meat – and showing it is possible to global policy makers –  so much else just cannot be delivered. The land, water, climate, biodiversity and health impact of our current diet is too huge.

The Eating Better Coalition – one year old this month and with over 40 NGO members – has published a list of policy asks of the Government. It’s not a huge list. Nor is it that difficult to achieve, from a budgetary or regulatory perspective. We need the Government to publish and promote new official guidelines on healthy sustainable diets and use these in new mandatory food procurement standards for schools, hospitals, government departments, prisons. We’re also asking for better designed farm support and a push for action at EU level.

Dieticians, environmental scientists and development agencies all agree these steps are needed.

What happens next depends on us

Because what we eat is personal, it’s easy to think it should be separated from the political. But this isn’t the case.

Effectively, we all have two votes. We cast a vote for the food and farming system every time we do our weekly food shop; and our vote in elections can and should make a difference. If no party puts up an ambitious, coherent food and farming strategy for May 2015 then we’ll have stop imagining it but demand it. Join us to help make this happen.

Some new startling facts about our food and farming system:

  • More obesity – a new Lancet study data shows the UK has higher levels of obesity and overweight people than anywhere in Western Europe except for Iceland and Malta.
  • Running out of land – new research shows the UK faces a ‘significant’ shortage of farmland by 2030 and the EU and UN confirm we take too much land globally
  • Growing resistance to antibiotics –new expert papers confirm we’re heading for a global crisis as current antibiotics are beginning to fail and we’re using too many in farming and in medicine.

The Meat Atlas has plenty more facts and figures.

Follow @vickihird on Twitter. If you want a challenge, enter our Get Gobby competition for sustainable diet campaigning and win £500. And for tips and ideas see the new Eat Smart Action Pack.

*QI’s most famous question “How many moons does the Earth have?”. Back in Series A it was two; in Series B this was revised to one or five. In series K this year it turns out there are now about 18,000.

Blog post written by Vicki Hird, 8th July 2014