In drawing together the disparate strands of social inequality, diet-related ill-health and the farming systems that underpin the food system, Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy is a vast and challenging piece of work.
Commissioned before Covid-19 struck, there is no doubt the levels of social inequality exposed by the pandemic have influenced his thinking and some of the outcomes of the plan; especially given the high profile nature of issues such as free school meals and the food choices of more underprivileged communities.
From farming’s perspective the calls for funding to be maintained in order for farmers to properly embrace emerging environmental initiatives will be welcomed as a dose of common sense – something this magazine said the report could be lacking when first announced at the end of 2019.
More contentiously, however, some farmers will be rattled by the reassertion that meat consumption ’should’ reduce by the 30 per cent in the coming decade. The word ’should’ is noticeable in its use in the report and it is clear Mr Dimbleby and others do not want to slap the industry with a highly divisive tax on meat.
Equally contentious will be the proposal of a rural land use framework and ’three compartment approach’ to this, with some areas used for food production, some for nature and carbon sequestration and others for low-intensity, nature-friendly farmland.
Applying such an arbitrary model to agricultural land use will cause concern and make those in more marginal areas, such as the uplands, fear that their ability to farm will be further eroded, especially after many have faced destocking in recent years.
As with any report, these are a set of recommendations for Government to assess. However, there must always be a balance struck between bringing in new ideals and maintaining enough of an incentive for farmers to keep farming.
As many have suggested previously, if you take away a farmer’s motivation to farm in the first place, then the long-term impact on both food production and the environment can be far reaching and ultimately counterproductive.