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Environment & ethics   |   Farming   |   Climate change   |   Biodiversity

A 'radical' roadmap to sustainable food

Growing more fruit, veg and nuts in the UK, an agroecology development bank and a ‘national service for nature’ are among the steps set out by a new report to radically speed up a transition to a sustainable food system.

Decades of policy designed to create cheap food has degraded the environment and spiralled ill-health, the report said, which sets out what it calls “radical ambitions that can be implemented at scale and at pace”.

Entitled Our Future in the Land, the report was compiled by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) and launched yesterday in London at an event where speakers included Defra minister Michael Gove and food policy advisor Henry Dimbleby.

As context, the report cites the cost of diet-related illness – Type 2 diabetes costs the UK economy around £27 billion a year – to the catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the countryside, the threat of climate change and the effect of rural poverty and stress on farmers.

Food and farming
Growing more fruit and veg in the UK will help improve the food system, the RSA report has said. 

“Farm gate prices are low; and whilst food in the supermarkets is getting cheaper, the true cost of that policy is simply passed off elsewhere in society – in a degraded environment, spiraling ill-health and impoverished high streets. The UK has the third cheapest food amongst developed countries, but the highest food insecurity in Europe,” the report said.

“We found farmers open to change but anxious, and locked into their current business models by debt, skills or circumstance. In the UK, agriculture contributes 11 per cent of GHG emissions, and is the biggest driver of wildlife loss, with 67 per cent decline in the abundance of priority species since 1970 and 13 per cent of them now close to extinction.”

Speaking at the event, commission chair Ian Cheshire said: “We need a 10 year farming revolution that includes financial support; we need to invest in the countryside; we need healthy food for all. We need to think practically and be radical.”

Professor of food policy, Tim Lang, tweeted in response: “The FFCC report is important. Yet more pressure on the UK to get its act together on the food system, which is drifting in Brexit policy fog. The report gives the powerful case for a radical new direction which links health, land, work, urban and rural.”

The report is built around three concepts: healthy food is everyone’s business; farming is a force for change; and a countryside that works for all.

Under healthy food, it states that healthier diets mean more fresh produce, pulses, nuts and less and better meat and dairy from climate and nature-friendly production, and recommended the UK commits to growing more of these products at home.  

To help unleash a “fourth agricultural revolution” and recognise that farming is a force for change, the report suggested that a National Agroecology Development Bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition after farmers said what they needed was access to innovative funding.

While around one per cent of people are employed in agriculture, around 72 per cent of UK land is farmed, the report said, outlining that the ‘countryside needs to work for all’.

Among recommendations to help achieve that goal, the report suggested establishing a National Nature Service that employs the energy of young people to kickstart the regenerative economy, as well sustainable solutions for rural housing.

“We must make it easy for people to do the right thing and increasingly difficult (or expensive) to do the wrong things,” authors wrote. “Our report sets out actions for everyone. In taking this whole systems approach, our responses are both radical and practical, engaging all those who need to act, to do so together.”

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