The second part of the National Food Strategy was published this week. This is an independent review of the food system in the UK and contains 14 recommendations for Westminster. The government now has the task of assessing the recommendations and will be responding in full with a white paper for consultation in the next six months.
This report is important to everyone – we all need food – but it is of particular interest to farmers and land managers who are a key part of the food system. Many of the recommendations will have an impact on what land is used for and how land is farmed. The focus is on England, but there is relevance to the devolved administrations.
It is a compelling read, with plenty of evidence, articulate arguments and explanations of some complex and tricky areas.
The report pulls together the important strands of food, farming and the environment, all of which must be considered together.
There are some hard truths - about health, inequality, the decline in nature, the quality of waterways, the urgent need to address climate change - and we ignore these at our peril.
There is a lot to agree within the report that reflects much of the CLA’s policy.
Key points related to farming and land use include:
- A recommendation for secure long-term funding (to 2029) for the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, which is vital in achieving the required changes in land use and land management
- Recognition that the binary debate between land sparing and land sharing is flawed and that a different approach is needed – land for nature and carbon, agro-ecological farming and environmentally sustainable high output farming – with no single blueprint for future farming.
- A recommendation for a £1bn investment in R&D and innovation, prioritising work to address methane emissions in ruminant production, increasing plant-based protein production and fruit and vegetables, along with government investment in knowledge exchange for the Evidence for Farming Initiative being developed under the Agricultural Productivity Task Force umbrella.
- For those involved in food and drink manufacture, there is an emphasis on whole food produced sustainably and a recommendation to strengthen government procurement rules to focus on healthy and sustainable food.
- There is strong support for trade policies that have equivalence of environmental and animal welfare standards at their core.
Some areas of the report are challenging, but we cannot afford to ignore or dismiss the findings. There is always room for interpretation, but in the main, the evidence is clear, and the analysis is fair. The chapters on Food and Climate and The Complexities of Meat provide evidence and explanation for some difficult issues. The varying carbon footprints from different livestock systems, the extent of land used for livestock feed production and the global variation are all highlighted. The report does acknowledge there are ways for ecological livestock systems to be climate and nature-positive. However, the ultimate conclusion is a need for a reduction in meat consumption by 30%, alongside other measures such as reducing food waste. This is an area of focus for the CLA to ensure that the livestock industry can be profitable and competitive, and take advantage of opportunities for high-quality domestic and export markets.
The report considers the ‘protein transition’ from a consumer perspective. A meat tax was ruled out, instead opting for a nudge approach – providing information to consumers and building awareness and providing investment for alternative protein sources such as plant-based, algae and lab-grown, which would need to be cheaper. Crucially though, there is also a recommendation for investment in research and technology to reduce methane from ruminants, underlining the message that this is about reducing meat consumption and changing how livestock are farmed rather than stopping production.
When it comes to land use, a ‘three-compartment model’ is proposed with land for nature and climate, agroecological farming, environmentally sustainable high output farming and the championing of ‘diversity of method’ for agricultural systems. The aim is to find the right balance of land use for food, nature and climate. With this in mind, a Rural Land Use Framework is recommended, which will include a National Rural Land Map setting out opportunities for different land areas to help guide decisions about land use and funding. There are reassurances that this should not be about imposing change, something that the CLA has raised. It is intended to help land managers make decisions about the use of their land. This is an area that will need further development and input from the CLA.
The message for farming is one of change – all farming businesses need to become more environmentally sustainable for the climate, for nature, for water and air quality. It is acknowledged that this is already underway in many places, but more needs to be done, and this will only happen if farmers get sufficient government support that is guaranteed in the long term. This supports the recommendation for the continuation of at least current funding levels until 2029 – something that the CLA has been championing for and fully supports.
This is a brief overview, and there is time to consider all the recommendations in full and feed into the development of government policy, so please get in touch if you have points you would like to make.