National Food Strategy: the industry responds

Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, which will advise the government ahead of its White Paper on the issue, has encouraged an industry wide response.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “This food strategy should act as a wake-up call for us all that we need to value the food we eat. We need to put balance back in our diet and have a renewed emphasis on eating natural, whole foods; the kind British farmers produce in abundance.

“I agree that we should be supporting everyone to eat more fruit and veg, something our farmers can support by growing more, and there should be more focus on educating our children about valuing and understanding the food they eat and how it has been produced.

“However, it is important that we do not throw meat into one blanket category and that we all make a clear distinction between grass-fed British meat and cheap imports.

“We should be considering British meat in its own category, recognising its sustainability and dense nutritional value. After all, scientific and medical communities agree it is a key part of a healthy, balanced diet, chock full of essential vitamins and minerals.

“This strategy says major reform is needed of the food system. I would suggest we first look at the actions our government is taking by agreeing to trade deals that welcomes in imported meat in limitless amounts.

“This underlines the importance of domestic, high-quality, traceable food production for the nation’s health and wellbeing and the importance of demonstrating global leadership in this area. This is only something we can do if we all get behind a viable British farming industry. It will never be achieved by exporting our food production more and more to countries which don’t adhere to the same values or production methods.”

Mark Bridgeman, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: “The National Food Strategy is a welcome addition to the debate about the future of land use and food production in the UK, alongside the critical issue of diets.  The focus on nature friendly farming methods, such as regenerative agriculture, and the need to pioneer new techniques to increase crop yields whilst also protecting the environment are very positive recommendations, and will resonate with many in the farming community.

“The strategy highlights the need to properly reward farmers for environmental improvements above and beyond what they already do.  Farmers often make very little profit from their efforts, and while so many of them are already undertaking a wide variety of environmental works, it is vital to recognise that any major change in land use proposed as part of Dimbleby’s vision should be driven by the market and positive incentives, rather than through compulsion.

“Government must understand the important role livestock plays in environmental management, and it needs to avoid succumbing to the false narrative set by campaign groups that meat is inherently bad.  The report rightly recognises the world class environmental and animal welfare standards of British food.  It is precisely because of these standards that government and industry can argue with confidence that consumers should buy British meat – as well as other British food – as part of a healthy and environmentally conscious diet.

“Farmers want to farm, and there is both demand and need for high quality British food both in domestic and overseas markets.  Maintaining our high standards must never be up for debate, and we warmly welcome the report’s support for ensuring these standards are maintained and protected in the UK’s international trade strategy.

“It is right to consider alternative ways of farming and different uses for land. Enhanced tree planting and peatland restoration will play an important role in further boosting landowner’s efforts to mitigate climate change and biodiversity decline.  But any change in land use, particularly to the extent that the strategy recommends, must be driven by the market and positive incentives rather than compulsion – and not come at the expense of the country’s ability to feed itself.”

Food and Drink Federation Chief Scientific Officer, Kate Halliwell, said: “Food and drink manufacturers welcome the intent to bring forward measures which will help to increase access and affordability of food and drink for children and families on lower incomes.

“In contrast to this, a salt and sugar tax will ultimately impact those families who are already struggling to make ends meet, by making food and drink more expensive. After many years of cost pressures, businesses in our sector are already operating on very tight margins, and any further costs would simply have to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher food prices.

 “These taxes will not drive reformulation. Food and drink manufacturers have been voluntarily lowering fat, salt and sugars in recipes for decades as well as reducing portion size, but it takes time to change much-loved products.”

Professor Michael Winters, an expert in food and farming supply from the University of Exeter said: “The National Food Strategy has been long awaited and does not disappoint.  Its call for radical change to improve the nation’s health and build both food and environmental security and the actions proposed are timely and persuasive. I was pleased to see that global implications are to the fore and biodiversity is not neglected, and very relieved to see the avoidance of overly simplistic solutions regarding agriculture.

“The Government is asking farmers to change the way they farm for the public good. The NFS rightly insists that we must ensure farmers are properly recompensed for this and protected from unfair competition. The NFS recommends that the Government meet its manifesto commitment on free trade and sets out a core list of minimum standards for agriculture to be met in all free trade agreements.

“I hope the Government will welcome the report but more importantly that it will ensure that appropriate policy framework and governance structures and are put in place to carry forward many of the report’s recommendations.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.