Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

National Food Strategy: a call to action

By Jane Campbell

15th July 2021

Response from our Chief Executive, Sue Pritchard

“We welcome the publication of the National Food Strategy for England as an important and timely call to action. The consensus is clear that changing food and farming is a critical part of tackling the climate, health and nature crises. The National Food Strategy lays down a serious challenge to government and business to act now. Better public health and a more sustainable society are within our grasp.

What’s more, our research shows real appetite among the British public for these changes. We urge the government to take on board the eminently doable recommendations in the National Food Strategy and, as the White Paper is developed, to be even more ambitious in responding to what the public want and what must be delivered.

The Strategy builds on our FFCC recommendations to rebalance the food system, use the power of public procurement, develop a land use framework, and support a transition to agroecology - investing in farmer-led innovation to help diverse farm businesses to thrive. It also shares our view that the current and future costs of ‘business as usual’ - in diet-related ill-health, and to the environment - are economically and ethically unacceptable.”

Sue Pritchard, Chief Executive of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Our response to key elements of the report

Dietary change

FFCC’s report, Farming for Change introduces modelling (referenced in the NFS) showing the need to reduce meat consumption overall whilst also valuing the role of ruminant livestock in a healthy agroecological farming system. It is time for government to enact policy which helps us move away from industrially produced animal products and imported proteins (which can drive deforestation and land use change) towards the healthy food that the UK is best suited to produce.

Land use and a transition to agroecology

Agroecology, a science and practice for improving food and farming systems, is a movement gaining ground across the UK. FFCC anticipates that farmers who are already leading the way in moving to regenerative practices will find a lot to like in the National Food Strategy as a supportive step on this pathway.

A Land Use framework for England is an important next step to bring England in line with ambitious thinking in other countries. It would mediate competing pressures on land and encourage multifunctionality. Through a set of shared principles and practices, it would develop a common vision for land between (often estranged) interests – farmers and environmentalists, local residents and developers – and, where disputes do arise, provide a framework for resolution. It is good to see land use referenced in the National Food Strategy, it must be about more than a binary choice between farmland or nature. FFCC argues that it is possible to both restore nature and produce food through a transition to agroecology and to manage other competing demands on land.

Trade

FFCC also welcomes the emphasis that the Strategy puts on trade and the importance of governments both raising and upholding standards in trade deals, and championing the institutions best placed to achieve consistent and rising standards worldwide.

Affordability

FFCC is encouraged to see the Strategy engaging with issues of inequality and affordability and starting to explore how pricing of healthy food has to change in order to tackle the current problems in our food system. Ever cheaper food just passes off the true costs elsewhere in society and making food cheaper has done nothing to alleviate food insecurity in the UK.

Local

It is encouraging to see that local food strategies and locally-led social prescribing are part of the National Food Strategy. Nonetheless, resourcing and supporting local communities to develop their community food plans is such a vital part of delivering on its aspirations that FFCC would like to see even greater focus on this. It would be disappointing if the lack of additional funding to support local authorities in their strategies limited the potential for impact.

Tax & Levies

There is a long history of taxation and levies being a useful tool in public health and our research suggests support from the public for this kind of action from government. As the White Paper is developed, FFCC will be interested to learn more about the sugar and salt levy and what measures can be put in place to avoid other inputs, being substituted for sugar and salt. FFCC would welcome further thinking about a similar levy on ultra-processed foods, which we see as one of the biggest dietary challenges that lie ahead, as well as thinking about legislation around procurement.

Governance

Using the right regulatory and legislative tools will help level the playing field and encourage all businesses to raise their game. Mandatory reporting by businesses, setting clear targets for improving diet-related health, and expanding the role of the FSA, go some way to creating the conditions for effective implementation. Supporting the right international governance mechanisms to ensure that global businesses can’t undercut national policies, through trade deals, or offshoring impacts in supply chains, is also important. And, as the Strategy is implemented at a local level, there will also be a need for local governance mechanisms.