Farmers have welcomed Government plans to publish a food strategy ‘this year’, report Abi Kay and Lauren Dean.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove made the announcement when giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee last week.
He said the strategy would be necessary to look at aspects of policy which were ‘outside the scope’ of the Agriculture Bill, which will provide a framework for payments to continue to be made to farmers after Brexit.
Defra non-executive director and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain Henry Dimbleby has been tasked with leading on the development of the strategy, which is still ‘a long way off’.
He has previous experience in this area, having co-authored the School Food Plan in 2013 when Mr Gove was Education Secretary.
David Brookes, a dairy farmer from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, told Farmers Guardian the announcement was ‘brilliant’.
“At least they are finally recognising food security could be a real issue for this country”, he said.
“There is a very fine line between having a surplus of food and a shortage. We are actually able to produce more food than we are currently in this country, and I think Mr Gove needs to refuse to back some of the NGOs and recognise British agriculture needs to be productive to survive.”
Other farmers, however, sounded a note of caution, saying it was ‘dangerous’ to separate food production from other policies.
The new food strategy follows a different 25-Year Environment Plan, which was published in January this year.
NFU South West Tenants’ Forum county chairman Chris Cardell said: “A food strategy, if it is linked to everything else we do, would be good because we now spend something like £16bn in this country on obesity, whereas in the past it was about £3bn.
“Surely that £3bn could be invested in good food and good health going forward.”
John Gatenby, Yorkshire beef and arable farmer: “I would like to see recognition of the fact farmers produce food and maintain the landscape as a by-product. The food is local, it is traceable, it is produced to higher welfare standards.
“It gives you a shorter food chain and it gives the consumer more assurances as to what they are receiving. That must be good.”
Claire Leggott, Lincolnshire livestock and arable farmer: “I would like to see fairness and also that the Government takes into account we have very strong assurance on all of the products we produce. We do not want cheaper, inferior products against ours.
“We also do not want a trade-off between agricultural products and something else the Government might want to trade somewhere else.”
Guy Smith, NFU deputy president: “The NFU has long called for Government to have a food strategy – primarily so it recognises the strategic importance of food, which in turn recognises the strategic importance of home food producers. So this is potentially good news.
“But Government must remember a comprehensive food strategy speaks for all consumers across all price points. What is not acceptable is a strategy which speaks for a metropolitan elite, while most consumers rely on imports produced to the lowest cheapest standards.”
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain: “As co-author of the School Food Plan, Henry Dimbleby brought together all those interested in what our children eat at school – including Government, local authorities, private and third sectors - and formulated an actionable plan which is now improving what our school children eat.
“It is exciting to think the same energy and attention could finally be brought to bear on cultivating a healthy and sustainable food system in the UK. We look forward to working with Henry Dimbleby and his team.”