Environment secretary Hilary Benn has launched the Government’s food strategy for 2030 with a call for Britain to grow and eat more sustainably. As well as growing more food in order to increase food security, he said Britain needed to reduce the greenhouse gases associated with agriculture, and reduce water usage. However the harm done to the environment by industrialised livestock production was not addressed, leading to criticism from green groups.
“We know that the consequences of the way we produce and consume our food are unsustainable to our planet and to ourselves,” Benn said, launching the Food 2030 strategy in a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday (5 January). “We know we are at one of those moments in our history where the future of our economy, our environment, and our society will be shaped by the choices we make now.”
Positive recommendations that publicly owned land should be converted to growing spaces, and that “meanwhile” allotments should be created on land awaiting development, were balanced with other more glaring omissions: GM was not mentioned, for example, and the onus was placed on consumers rather than on retailers to change trends – Benn cited the rise of Fairtrade and free-range products as an example of “people power” leading the drive towards healthier, more local foods.
He also stopped short of calling for reduced reliance on meat and dairy products, despite the findings of the Government’s own independent advisory body on sustainability, the Sustainable Development Commission, which last year concluded that a reduction in livestock farmed for meat would benefit health, food security and the environment. While acknowledging the impact of livestock in terms of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, the report says “not all types of meat have the same impacts, neither do all systems of production”.
Friends of the Earth food campaigner Helen Rimmer said the issue of intensive meat production had not been dealt with: “We urgently need a fresh approach, but the Government has served up business as usual and failed to address the global impacts of intensive meat and dairy production. The Government claims that consumers can secure Britain’s food future, but continues to spend more than £700m of public money on environmentally-destructive factory farming each year.”