Eating more venison was cut from the strategy after widespread ridicule. Credit Airwolfhand

Food strategy; another casualty of dysfunctional politics

We are going to leave the future of our food and farming to market forces, and to the choices of consumers who are surrounded by foods that are killing them.

As I type, a young roe deer is nervously grazing in the field opposite my house. As much as I enjoy seeing deer on the farm, they have killed so many trees this year that I would happily eat it. Indeed, eating more wild venison was a leading element of a leaked early version of our government’s food strategy – later removed after widespread ridicule.

This scrapped idea (a bit of red meat to throw to disgruntled Tory backbenchers) was an early sign that the report would be all about politics, and very little about considered strategy; a fear confirmed by the release of the final report last week.

The report was supposed to be a response to Henry Dimbleby’s well-considered National Food Strategy, published in 2020-21. Many expected it to contain firm actions framed in legislation, to drive the changes that Dimbleby recommended.

But it turns out there will be no extension of eligibility for free school meals, no Eat & Learn scheme in schools to teach young children about food, no expansion of the Healthy Start fruit and veg voucher scheme for young families, no sugar and salt tax, and no action to reduce meat consumption in line with climate goals.

Perhaps most alarmingly, there are fears that the strategy may signal a watering down of the proposed environmental land management schemes (ELMS) which were to be the basis of the UK’s new farming policy, replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (which pays subsidies to farmers).

These ELMS were going to pay farmers for environmental improvements – but the new strategy mentions no targets for land-use change. There is also no guarantee of minimum standards for the food imports that farmers must compete with.

Despite the junk food cycle feeding an obesity and diabetes epidemic; despite the desperate need for a considered, long-term policy to tackle climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and food insecurity; despite the call for government action from every food policy expert I have met; despite previous failures of self-regulation. Despite all this, we are going to leave the future of our food and farming to market forces, and to the choices of consumers who are surrounded by foods that are killing them. As Dimbleby himself has commented, this report “is not a strategy”.

5 Comments

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  1. Ok Lets start what I think might be an interesting conversation! In the first instance in a time when I believe we are encouraging people to become more independant with food which of course includes various forms of preservation so that we eat more than we wast I note there are those who want to tax both sugar and salt – some of the better preservation items, other than great big fuel using freezers etc! Talk about narrow sighted. As for the complaint about the change of of farming policy from the by now “foreign” idea (remember we had a democratic vote . . . . . remember democracy? Many don’t) EU Policy where they subsidise farmers just for being farmers . . . . . . . . mmmmmm.

    We then move on to targets for “land use change”, as far as I can see the country as a whole is carrying out this activity as quickly as possible – changing good farming land into brown field sites covered with buildings of all descriptions thus destroying even more of the few green fields we still have!

    I could say more but I’m sure many who might agree with me will say nothing because many will be to worried about the consequences of being seen as the proverbial round pegs in square holes – to my mind the situation in the world today warns us that the more farming land we have the food we can produce thus ensuring that nobody can hold us to ransome over what we eat etc.

    The Walrus

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  2. Well said Guy. In this as in so many areas, we seem to have surrendered to market forces (meaning, in general, the power of money). The government seems powerless to act in a responsible way, drowning it seems in a tidal wave of superficial, short-term, polarised, ill-informed but loudly expressed opinions and being unwilling to upset anyone for risk of losing votes. Oh well, we have to keep speaking our truths I suppose, fighting the good fight. Keep up the good work.

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  3. I don’t understand most of this but what I think I understand is that our government doesn’t care for its people. As long as they throw a bit more money at people of pensionable age, who bother to vote they think they are ok. Many experts tell us that the food people eat is killing them but the gov’t doesn’t seem to care only the profits of large companies. Shame. We need to take action ourselves.

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  4. The world is out of balance because of our behaviour over a period of time which I believe has created the perfect conditions for viruses to emerge and pollution in every part of our natural world, plus, as you say, Guy, many foods that are harmful to our bodies. So I think that until our behaviour changes, which I think must come from a forced change, certain things will continue; a forced change such as a financial crash which would be the real leveller and, although this would cause panic and many difficulties would, in time, allow people to think more about living with nature and a natural law, rather than on material things, and perhaps people would also be forced to consider growing food locally in a healthy way.

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  5. My husband and I were both so struck by this piece in the box this week, that we have sent it to the Prime Minister with a note saying that it sums up why we will not be voting Tory next time, and that actions speak louder than words (of which we have a surfeit). Adding that we are not farmers.

    Thank you, Guy, for expressing the current lack of joined-up thinking so thoroughly.

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