Analysis: Food strategy receives mixed reactions from industry

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The new National Food Strategy represents an “important step” as the government has finally recognized the importance of domestic food production, according to NFU President Minette Batters.

The strategy (PDF) has received a mixed reaction since it was published on Monday June 13, a year after restaurateur Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of England’s food system prompted the government’s latest document.

Ms Batters told an audience at the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) conference in Gloucestershire on Wednesday June 15 that strategy was “words for now”, but policy now needs to be developed.

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She said it was right that the government reacted sharply to the global situation, including the war in Ukraine, and recognized the value of domestic food production.

Until now, the government had legislated on trees, nature, massive commitments on green energy and building, but food production was “the poor relation”.

“Is this a game-changer in political thinking?” she asked. “I hope so because I have to.”

Wide commitment

The Defra document pledges to help farmers globally maintain the current level of domestically produced food and boost sectors where there are the greatest opportunities, such as horticulture and seafood.

Currently the UK produces 60% of the national food by value, which amounts to 74% of the food we can grow and raise in the UK.

Ms Batters said the strategy also contained good commitments to grow more of our own fruit and vegetables and source more local food from the public food sector.

The question now was what all of this would mean for small family farmers and how the commitment to food production would change the government’s thinking on its Environmental Land Management (ELM) programme.

What the strategy says

Defra’s long-awaited food strategy includes a commitment to help farmers “maintain globally” national food production.

The strategy reiterates its commitment to ensuring UK agriculture is funded at the same levels for the duration of this parliament. Other plans include:

  • Invest £270m in agricultural innovation programs through 2029
  • 10,000 additional seasonal worker visas (8,000 for horticulture and 2,000 for poultry), bringing the number of seasonal worker visas available this year to 40,000
  • Commission an independent review to tackle labor shortages in the food supply chain to ensure UK businesses can access the labor they need
  • Find out how to make the most of innovative feed additives that can reduce methane emissions from livestock, to support sustainable agriculture
  • Consultation on ambition for 50% of public sector food procurement spending to be on food produced locally or to higher standards
  • Food waste reporting consultation for large businesses over a certain size
  • Publish framework for land use in England next year

But Mr Dimbleby said there were “big gaps” in the content of the strategy. The most interesting part was the commitment to produce a land use framework next year, he said, which was “fundamental” for the future development of ELM policy.

He said it was “disappointing” that the final version of the food strategy removed a commitment in the draft copy circulating last weekend to grant different tariffs for imported beef not raised in a responsible way. environment, such as deforested land in the Amazon. rainforest in Brazil.

Deben review

Lord Deben, chair of the UK government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), strongly criticized the document, saying it was “not a strategy” and did not address any of his committee’s issues. He also doubted ministers would achieve his goals.

Defra Farms Minister Victoria Prentis said weekly farmers“Our food strategy sets out our plan for a food system fit for the future. We are committed to delivering a world-class, sustainable food sector that supports farmers and producers across the country. »

The Sustainable Food Trust published its own landmark report this week, Feeding Britain from scratch – the association’s roadmap for an alternative agro-food strategy.

The study suggests that grass-fed beef and lamb would become the staple meats if the UK shifts to sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

However, that would mean far less meat produced from grain-fed livestock, such as chicken and pork.

In her own words – Victoria Prentis

“Food is central to my personal and political identity. The pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine have shown how important food is to all of us.

“For example, we have a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman who moved in with us. Her grandparents live in busy Kherson and the phone conversations we have about what they can get to eat are sobering.

“We are incredibly lucky that, thanks to the hard work of our farmers, we can produce so much of our own food in this country. Our food producers work tirelessly to make sure we can all eat well, and that work is something I’m immensely proud of.

“Food security is at the heart of our food strategy, and we are committed to globally maintaining the current level of food we produce domestically. We also want to boost production where the opportunities are greatest, such as horticulture.

“But protecting food security is not just about maintaining production. We also need to take advantage of the latest technology to boost productivity, for example through our upcoming horticulture strategy and invest £270m in agricultural innovation programs through to 2029.

“I understand that the agricultural industry is facing more than its fair share of challenges due to the impacts of the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the pandemic.

“Agricultural commodities have always been closely linked to global gas prices, so the costs of fertilizers, animal feed, energy and fuel are currently high.

“We have already announced some measures to help alleviate these challenges, but our food strategy goes further by addressing other challenges facing the sector.

“We are commissioning an independent review to address labor shortages in the food supply chain, we are expanding the seasonal worker visa pathway to include poultry, and we intend to use grants to help farmers invest to improve their profitability and increase their agricultural production.

“We will not tell farmers what to invest in; we will support investments they deem appropriate for their own businesses.

“Our food strategy sets out our plan for a food system fit for the future. We are committed to providing a world-class, sustainable food sector that supports farmers and producers across the country. »

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