Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to “back farmers” as the government food strategy, officially published this morning, has been blasted by critics as being “nothing more than a statement of vague intentions”.
The Prime Minister said today’s paper – which confirms a number of elements of the leaked draft – outlines how the government will support farmers, boost British industry and safeguard food security. It also talks of its intention to tackle labour shortages in the food supply chain and to consult on how to improve on and expand animal welfare labelling.
The strategy – created in response to a major review of the country’s food system by Leon restaurant co-founder Henry Dimbleby – was leaked by The Guardian on Friday, leading to widespread criticism.
Mr Johnson said: “Our food strategy sets out a blueprint for how we will back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security.
“Harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food – unlocking jobs across the country and growing the economy, which in turn will ultimately help to reduce pressure on prices.”
Johnson said the paper had accepted “the majority of recommendations” from Dimbleby’s original report, including policy initiatives to boost health, sustainability and accessibility of diets, and to secure food supply.
A move to strengthen the resilience of the nation’s supply chains and increase domestic production was key, with the call to “grow and eat more of our own food” a clear bid to help guard against future economic shocks and crises.
Part of this included a focus on reducing the distance between farm and fork, with 50% of public sector food to be produced locally or certified to higher standards.
The strategy also sets out plans to use feed additives to reduce methane emissions from livestock, publish a land use framework, consult on food waste reporting, create a new professional body for the farming and growing industry and to boost training and develop clear career pathways.
However, critics – including Dimbleby himself, who has said the final result shows no vision and is “not a strategy” – say it has ignored many of the key recommendations from the initial review.
Recommendations on diet and public health, such as using a sugar and salt tax to fund healthy food options for those in poverty, were not included. Other high-profile suggestions, including expanding free school meals, greater environment and welfare standards in farming, and a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption were also left out.
“It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done,” said Dimbleby, the government’s lead adviser on food issues.
The National Farmers Union also said ministers had stripped Dimbleby’s original proposals “to the bone” while Labour said the document was “nothing more than a statement of vague intentions”.
Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs, described the strategy as “nothing more than a statement of vague intentions”, adding that calling it a food strategy would be “bordering on the preposterous”.
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of farming group Sustain, said: “In the face of multiple crises in the cost of living, rocketing obesity, climate change and nature loss, the Government food strategy looks shamefully weak.”
The Food Foundation called the paper “disappointing”, saying it “misses this mark” as many of its commitments will “flounder without new legislation to make them stick”.
The charity’s executive director, Anna Taylor, described it as: “a feeble interpretation of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations” and said it would “not be sufficient to drive the long-term change that we know is so urgently needed”.