The National Food Strategy Part One – It’s Out!

I was excited to read the new National Food Strategy Part 1 (NFS) document, recently published in July. I have recently taken part in various discussions and an in depth local workshop (in York) on building our food system for the future. This involvement is why I was looking forward to reading the publication. However, I was sorely disappointed by the massive ‘Elephant in the Room’ gap in the document.

Balancing Two Key Features of The Food System

What I anticipated, was a framework for an integrated outlook combining two vital elements of the system.

Element One – Society

Firstly, we need a plan to provide our societal needs for nutritious food for everyone, which the report provides.  Food poverty in the UK continues to be an ongoing nightmare for far too many. Children make up a large proportion of our undernourished population, with ‘holiday hunger’ exacerbating their difficulties.

The long term effects of poor diet range from physical development and obesity to inability to learn (you try being productive when you’re hungry). The consequence for individuals can be difficulty reaching their ‘economic potential’ (ie getting a decent job and breaking the downward cycle). The COVID crisis has highlighted and exacerbated this issue, as unemployment places more people under financial strain.

Element Two – Environment

Secondly, of equal importance, the strategy is a crucial opportunity to address the environmental stresses placed on the planet.  Our demand for plentiful, cheap food, seems to be regardless of the damage this is causing.

However, as I progressed through the pages of the NFS, I found it woefully lacking in environmental perspective. A cursory five pages, towards the end of the document, with a few mentions of climate change dotted around the missive. Climate change and environmental issues are vital food related issues and they have not been given sufficient gravitas.

Feeding the nation and food poverty are undoubtedly critical aspects of the strategy. But, surely feeding the nation sustainably is of equal importance!

A Healthy Planet for Healthy People 

Put it like this; humanity will not have the capability to feed its 8-9 billion people if we don’t have a healthy planet. Needless to say, that includes us, here in the UK. That’s it. We simply cannot afford to be short sighted and address today’s food poverty, without sufficient scrutiny of our long term reliance on the planet to provide for us.

The promise of in-depth recommendations for building a greener future in Part 2 is due for release in a year’s time. This extended timescale is quite simply disturbing.

The Time to Act is NOW

There are only ten years left until uncontrollable, runaway climate change. With such a short time-frame, we do not have a year to waste, while waiting for the next stage of the review process to be completed. Food production ‘from Farm to Fork’ is calculated to cause 20-30% of global emissions. Within that measurement, a shocking one third of produce being wasted at various points along the way. We cannot afford to fritter away another year contemplating how to respond to the global threat.

The research paper fleetingly mentions meat-eating and associated greenhouse gas emissions, local supply versus global production, genetically modified foods such as golden rice and technologies for vertical soil-free farming. However, there is not one iota of evidence provided for directing strategy and making crucial decisions relating to these matters.

It feels to me that the in-depth analysis highlighting food poverty during the COVID-19 crisis has been used as a fudge. The result is a wasted opportunity to address the difficult topic of developing a transformational food system fit for our healthy futures.

And that is something which I find quite scary.

Your Thoughts on The National Food Strategy?

Dear Reader, I am very interested to hear your responses. Please comment, including most importantly, what action you think should be taken to drive the environmental imperatives of our National Food Strategy to the forefront of policy makers’ attention.

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