Where does the food strategy leave us?

We asked influential leaders what they thought about the response to the National Food Strategy, and where it leaves UK nations.

29th June 2022

With less than a decade left to 2030, and food security set to stay top of the agenda in the run up to COP27 in November, where does the government's response to the National Food Strategy leave us?

It is clear that citizens, farmers, and progressive food businesses all want the same thing: a fair balanced and sustainable food system, which works better for everyone, and especially the poor and vulnerable in society.

Making real progress towards this means tackling a number of policy areas simultaneously: food, diets and health, farming and land use, action for climate and nature, progressive trade and international relations, reducing waste and optimising resources. Only by addressing the whole system can UK nations together build a fairer more transparent food economy that supports UK primary producers, food security, and food sovereignty.

The Government Food Strategy gives some positive signals to this effect, many of which are aligned with the recommendations of our 2019 report, Our Future in the Land, as well as subsequent research. We applaud commitments to:

  • support agroecology and its regenerative practices
  • increase UK horticulture
  • support local food enterprises
  • use public procurement to source more sustainably produced UK food
  • produce a land use framework by 2023

But, the devil is in the detail of these proposals, and in the government's ability to act swiftly with the whole food system in mind. Without addressing certain key elements of this system, progress towards the government's economic goals, as well as its climate and nature ambitions, are at risk.

What are the key risks and opportunities going forwards?

  • There is a pressing need to address the UK's junk food cycle to address the economic impact of poor dietary health on the NHS and on the economy more broadly. It is essential that DHSC's work on health inequalities addresses this in partnership with DEFRA.
  • Breaking out of policy silos will be a key challenge: silver bullet solutions risk unintended consequences. A Food Bill would have been an opportunity for government departments to deliver on their commitments collaboratively.
  • More generally this government’s reluctance to intervene in markets is problematic, despite responsible businesses and citizens explaining that they want government to legislate and regulate. Without this intervention, some global food businesses will continue to put public goods like health and environment at risk, stacking up more problems for government by externalising their true costs of production.
  • By placing responsibility on citizen choice rather than corporate responsibility, government will continue to pick up the cost to NHS, climate, environment: removing junk food advertising, reducing complex supply chains, and regulating packaging choices are key elements of this.

What do other people in the sector think?

We asked influential leaders what they thought about the response to the National Food Strategy, and where it leaves UK nations. Watch their responses.

Beccy Speight, CEO RSPB: "We have less than a decade to halt and reverse the decline of nature: this response is just not strong enough"
Patrick Holden, CEO Sustainable Food Trust: "Farmers are ready to make change, but the white paper didn't give them clear enough direction."
Helen Browning, CEO, Soil Association: "We know what needs to be done: we need to see this implemented rather than delayed further."
Dan Crossley, Executive Director Food Ethics Council: "It has left us in limbo. There are huge gaps. We need to look to what some of the devolved nations are doing to learn from this."
Nikki Yoxall, Head of Research, Pasture for Life: "There is real opportunity to learn from each of the devolved nations, and learn from each other in a collaborative way"
Prof John Gilliland, Devenish Nutrition: "A missed opportunity to connect food production and human health in the way other devolved nations are doing."
Henry Dimbleby, author of the National Food Strategy: "Piecemeal responses so far ... we need to sort trade, and we need to make sure the changes we make are on a legislative footing."