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”.


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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

  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.

  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.

  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.

    1. Interesting you say this! I really hope it doesn’t have to happen like this, but there are scary parallels with what is happening now and WW2. The last time inequality was as high was before the war, the spanish flu preceeded WW2, and my analysis of the origins of the war between russia and ukraine are very similar to WW2: nations with a feeling they had been belittled after peace treaties in WW1 and the end of the Soviet era.

      It’s so desperately sad that we think a huge crisis is needed to bring more equality. Is there another way?

  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.

    1. You’ll be pleased to hear Guy has continued to express his contempt of the government’s food strategy at Groundswell last week, asking Henry Dimbleby from the crowd:

      “Given that the government are convinced that markets provide the solutions to everything, given that our PM’s first pledge in government was to get rid of the sugar tax and questioned the tobacco tax, given that just about every expert agrees that there needs to be government intervention on health and the environment, is the change we really need to see, is a change in government?”

      The crowd obviously loved this. He has a way of conveying passion!

  6. In reply to Jack, I believe that we will be forced to change because I don’t think any Government on its own at the moment, let alone the world coming together, would be prepared to make the changes that are necessary to bring about a balance within our own thinking and behaviour and within our natural world, because politics is influenced by big business and industry and of course money is always at the root and feeds the growing inequalities. The pollution from industry, farming, and within our food and water has been brought about by human behaviour in my view and voices like we can see within Wicked Leeks are few and far between, but great that there is this endeavour to try and raise the alarm. I don’t hear people ask ‘Why?’ enough; for example why do we have this pandemic (which is not over by any stretch), why do we have so much cancer, why do we have so much dementia and alzheimer’s, etc etc. Has nature reached a tipping point and are we seeing more climate change events and disease in part because of this? We seem to be treating the symptoms rather than the root cause of all that is happening around us that is causing concern and I think everyone will have to take some responsibility. So that is why I see many positives from some of the changes that I believe will come, such as a financial crash and increasingly more dramatic global climatic events, because we will have to change our ways, our priorities and our lives in many respects but hopefully people will pull together to do this, another positive that will no doubt ensue once the panic, anger and fear is over; and I believe that those who have the knowledge, such as Guy, to do things the right way and respect the land and wildlife will be invaluable in educating people who will be more ready to listen and think.

    1. It’s a bleak vision, that we can’t turn it around without a mass crisis. With what’s going on at the moment, do you think a different government could do a better job?

  7. Government decisions are too often a messy compromise between representing voters, supporting economic development (dubious, now we have a climate crisis) and satisfying party donors. We need to at least reduce the influence of party donors, perhaps by reducing allowed donations. The governing party should get by with less, like the rest of us.

    1. Definitely would be a good start. Although there was a good verdict against kelloggs trying to sue the government on the new HFSS regulations:

      Maybe there is truth to Dimbleby’s verdict that the narrative around health in slowly chaning.

      I wonder if there’s a way to tackle the short electoral periods that gov are in. On the one hand im not particularly ecstatic about the notion of a certain party having a shot at 10 years, but equally so important to have a more long term vision, which in the case for health, is key. No quick fixes for obesity.

  8. We are talking politics all day today while climate change events and disease continue their march, feeding on the right conditions that we have laid down through pollution of soil, air, water, wildlife, our bodies and minds. No wonder the pandemic virus is gaining strength for another wave and other viruses and diseases are raising their heads; no wonder we are seeing more climatic events and more imbalance within people’s thoughts and actions. The reality is, in my view, we do not realise how quickly change is happening and, more importantly, why. Nature is fighting back and no government can turn the tide against such a force when it has been abused for so long. We need to be ready to adapt.


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