The sugar and salt taxes in the recently announced national food strategy made the headlines . However, the original brief for the author was to review the entire food system. Many of the resultant recommendations relate to environmental protection.
The bulk of the review, relating to environmental issues, recognises the contribution that agriculture makes to UK greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. methane from cows, fertilizer degradation) and the impact on biodiversity (habitat destruction, pollution). However, the strategy also recognizes that the damage we do to our environment may well impact on crop yields and other aspects of food production and supply. More on that later.
To combat the adverse environmental parts of our food system the strategy makes some key recommendations:
- Support farmers to make a transition to sustainable practices – this ensures an income is available to farmers that makes it viable for them to grow our food by paying them for environmental stewardship. The stewardship will take the form of carbon sequestration and habitat creation.
- Develop a rural land use framework and map that directs policy towards efficient use of land from an environmental perspective (e.g. forestry, energy crops, peatland or agroforestry). They note around 2.2% of total UK land will be needed for new housing by 2060.
- Require public bodies (schools, prisons, hospitals etc) to buy sustainable food – the public sector spends around £2.4bn per year. This huge wedge of tax payers’ money can be used for good and have a knock-on effect for other sectors.
- Environmental impact labelling to allow consumers to make more informed purchasing choices.
The “Food security” chapter of the strategy highlights that, at the moment food production contributes to environmental degradation. In turn this “will decrease crop yields, which could lead to higher prices and make societies more vulnerable to famine, food riots and conflict”. Whilst the strategy doesn’t specifically mention a metric for monitoring our food security, following the adage that you can only manage what you measure, then it would make sense to have one that includes environmental issues. Until a metric is developed, the Economist’s Global Food Security Index could be a good surrogate .
At the moment the UK scores 78.5 out of 100 on this index and a big chunk of why we are not 100% food secure is down to a poor score on “Natural Resources and Resilience”.
Environmental protection is a crucial factor in securing the supply of all our basic needs. As well as food, clean air, water and even our own homes are at risk if we fail to take action. The start point is an environmental baseline, together with an idea of what “good” looks like. Get in touch if you’d like advice on making your contribution to environmental protection.
 Photo credit: Jack Sloop