Tough choices in Dimbleby’s food strategy for nation

Ahead of the publication of the second part of the UK’s National Food Strategy later today, a call has been issued for the approach to embrace agricultural science and innovation.

Food tsar Henry Dimbleby
Food tsar Henry Dimbleby

The strategy is the first major review of the nation’s food systems in nearly 75 years and the publication of the second report which is being overseen by businessman Henry Dimbleby is widely expected to contain some controversial recommendations, including measures to encourage a 30% reduction in meat consumption as part of a ‘protein transition’.

However speaking ahead of the release of the report, Julian Sturdy MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture said a ‘healthier, more sustainable and climate resilient future’ for Britain’s food system would not be achieved by turning back the clock - but by harnessing innovation to optimise the efficiency, productivity and adaptability of primary food production.

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Highlighting the importance of food security in advance of publication, Sturdy said previous reports which had urged governments to pursue a policy of ‘sustainable intensification' in agriculture to meet future food needs in the context of population growth, climate change and finite natural resources should not be ignored.“The UK has good soils, a temperate climate, a highly professional and well-equipped farming sector, and a world-leading research - and so has a moral responsibility to optimise its capacity for sustainable efficient food production, and not to offshore emissions.”

On the possibility of a ‘meat tax’ recommendation, he said that emissions from the livestock sector could be reduced by improved efficiencies and better breeding:

“I am sure the National Food Strategy will recognise that advanced breeding technologies such as genomic selection and gene editing – in which British science is a world leader – offer a more forward-looking approach to reducing GHG emissions in livestock production, rather than imposing blunt and regressive fiscal approaches which will inevitably penalise poorer households and restrict freedom of choice.”

However his views were in stark contrast to those of the environmental group, Greenpeace whose Anna Jones said that a 30 per cent reduction was ‘just a taste’ of what was needed to repair food systems which she claimed were pushing the planet to breaking point.

But Jones acknowledged that it was important that the reduction was achieved in a manner which was ‘fair for farmers’, with the right support made available to transition to sustainable production.

*The National Sheep Association rejected calls for the public to eat less meat, stating that the grass-fed livestock in Britain, would be a key contributor to the efforts to reach Net Zero.

“Grass and herbage, and the use of grazing animals is one of the key aspects of regenerative agriculture, building soil life and quality, and with a low dependency on inputs,” said NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker.“While vegan and trend chasing diets get a disproportionate media coverage the majority of consumers favour a balanced diet, with nutrients that are naturally provided by meat and dairy, complemented by plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains,” he added.

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