England’s food strategy risks being watered down | Agriculture

The government should water down its next food strategy for England, ignoring ambitious recommendations offered in two government-commissioned reports, campaigners say.

The white paper, due later this month, was meant to be a groundbreaking plan to tackle natural and climate emergencies in response to eye-catching recommendations restaurateur Henry Dimbleby advocated in his reports.

Campaigners also expected he could tackle the obesity crisis, by making healthy foods more accessible, including expanding free school meals.

It was hoped that a Food Bill would be introduced, introducing into law measures such as the declaration of the nutritional content of foods served in schools and hospitals. Experts consulted on the strategy pushed for a reduction in intensive animal farming and mandatory reporting for retailers on how much animal protein, versus plant protein, they sell.

This, they said, has become even more crucial given the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine which is putting pressure on international food supply chains.

However, those who have worked with the government on the strategy say none of this is happening and that any criticisms of the government, such as its poverty record, will be removed. There will also be no food bill, so none of the recommendations will be enshrined in law.

Even previously announced childhood obesity measures, such as bans on junk food advertising, are likely to be watered down, delayed or scrapped altogether after pressure from a small group of backbench MPs. right, said those familiar with the report.

The independent National Food Strategy, developed by Dimbleby, was commissioned in 2019 by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove and produced two reports.

Rob Percival, food policy manager at the Soil Association, said: “We worked closely with Henry and the team throughout the process to shape his recommendations. I can’t say we’re extremely confident that we’re going to see an ambitious government response or even an adequate response to be honest.

“The government has already said they are not going to come up with a food bill, which is extremely disappointing. That would have been a way of making recommendations into law. We are not convinced that the government will act on our recommendations.

Ambitious measures have been proposed by experts, including changing where people get their protein.

Greenpeace has called for a shift to plant-based protein, and the Soil Association agrees, arguing that all meat should be produced in a regenerative system, with more land used to grow crops for human consumption rather than being fed to animals or used. for intensive farming.

Rebecca Newsom, policy officer at Greenpeace UK, said: “Our long-term food security relies on a healthy natural environment and resilient soils, with deep reductions in agrochemicals, a 70% reduction in production and consumption meat and dairy products by 2030. , and land used efficiently to produce healthy, largely plant-based foods, rather than grains for animal feed or crops for biofuels.

“To achieve this, land that can produce food directly for people must be used for this purpose, and much greater financial and technical support is needed for farmers to switch to sustainable methods.”

Percival agreed, adding: “We are wasting so much grain, feeding it to animals in intensive farming systems, while we are going through a cost of living crisis. A sustainable system would force us to eat less, better quality meat and more unprocessed plant protein like beans and legumes.

However, it is understood that this recommendation will not be included in the strategy and that any changes other than those already covered by the already announced Environmental Land Management Systems (ELMS) will be voluntary.

Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of agricultural NGO Sustain, said: “Any government food strategy that fails to adequately manage both the cost of living and the climate and natural crisis will be woefully inadequate.

“Government intervention is needed to achieve a safe and sustainable food system that makes good food available and affordable to all, while helping farmers and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore nature. What we fear will be a small basket of measures designed to grab headlines for the Prime Minister while doing little for our families, our health or the environment.

Dimbleby declined to comment, and Defra did not respond to a request for comment.

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