A new review from the National Food Strategy has called for the UK government to take a more targeted approach to make the agricultural sector more environmentally sound.
The report, which was commissioned by the Government in 2020, was published on Thursday this week and is the first major examination of the UK’s food industry in 75 years. It was carried out by Henry Dimbleby; co-founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and non-executive board member at the Department of Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs, and identifies areas for improvement in the existing food system.
According to the report, food systems currently make up one-fifth of the UK’s domestic annual emissions. The sector has therefore already been identified as requiring a significant overhaul to get the country on track for its Paris targets.
In addition, the document says the current system has had detrimental impacts on biodiversity and soil quality, stating:
“The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. It is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after the energy industry.”
The report adds that we are at a pivotal moment, with the pandemic offering an opportunity to start again and reshape the food industry from the bottom up.
Ensuring farmers are appropriately supported during this transition was a key aspect of Dimbleby’s suggestions, as he says they must be ‘at the centre’ of any new food system. As part of this, Dimbleby identified the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme detailed in the Agriculture Bill as needing clarification. The document was drafted to outline how the UK will replace subsidies offered pre-Brexit, but Dimbleby says it is “not yet clear exactly how ELMs money will be distributed, which makes it hard for farmers to plan ahead”, calling for more clarity on the matter to ensure industry members are appropriately reimbursed as they adapt to novel climate-related requirements.
The review also recommends setting up a new environment-oriented trade policy, as well as a large-scale land assessment in the UK, designating areas for activities such as food production, carbon sequestration and farming.