Government launches consultation on future of UK agri-food industry

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Written by Rachel Martin

British shoppers could be able to buy environmentally-friendly, healthy and affordable food under plans for a radical shake-up of the UK’s agri-food industry.

As one of the first steps, the Government is today (August 17), launching a call for evidence, giving everyone from consumers, farmers and food producers, to scientists and academics, an opportunity to shape how we produce, sell and consume food in the UK.

Their views will inform the first major review of the nation’s food system in nearly 75 years, led by entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, to ensure the food industry is fit for the future, supports growth, enhances the environment and is resilient to the challenges posed by climate change.

The review will look at what is working well already, as well as the role of new technology to revolutionise the food supply.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers explained it would also look into innovations like vertical farming and robotics, as well as carbon-neutral manufacturing and crops that tackle climate change.

“As well as keeping us alive and healthy, food plays a central role in our culture and our national life. The threats from climate change, loss of biodiversity and the need to deliver safe and affordable food gives rise to new challenges we must address.

As we leave the EU and seek to capitalise on the opportunities this can provide for the UK’s farmers and food producers, we have the chance to reshape our food system from farm-to-fork to ensure it is ready to deal with these 21st-century pressures.
“So I am delighted to launch this call for evidence to build on the excellent work Henry Dimbleby has already done on this important review. We should not underplay the importance of the food we eat for our environment, our health and our society, and I encourage people to share their views on the way ahead.”

Independent review lead Henry Dimbleby said: “These could be policies or ideas that make it easier for us to make more informed decisions about the food we eat; that make food production more environmentally sustainable; that help food businesses and communities to thrive; or that could put our country at the forefront of innovation in the coming years.

“Whether you are someone who works in a food business, a farmer, a food processor, an interested citizen – whoever you are – we want to hear from you. We can’t wait to read your submissions and hear about your ideas.”

Prue Leith CBE restaurateur, food writer, cookery campaigner and broadcaster said: “For too long we have tinkered with food and food education. But we really need to grasp the nettle and do something radical. The National Food Strategy is an opportunity not to be missed, for our generation and for our children and grandchildren.

“Through this strategy, we have the opportunity to improve the nation’s health and embrace sustainability and I urge everyone to engage with it.”

Minette Batters, National Farming Union president said: “British food is amongst the best, safest and most affordable in the world and UK farming plays a crucial role in providing the raw ingredients that form the backbone of our country’s food system.

It’s time we took pride and interest in our food industry, which is worth over £120 billion to the national economy and employs four million people.
“The NFU is pleased to work with Henry Dimbleby to continue the development of a food system that delivers high quality, safe and affordable food for all.”

Prof. Judy Buttriss, director general of British Nutrition Foundation said: “The Call for Evidence to help develop Defra’s National Food Strategy provides an opportunity to shape a strategy that looks at food, nutrition and the environment in the round, through multiple lenses. The opportunity should not be missed.

“Good nutrition is as much about eating more of some things as it is about cutting back on others. The integrated message of variety, balance and nutrient density – making every calorie count – needs to be reflected in food production right through to what we teach children in school.”

The review, which was officially launched in June, will last for a year and aim to create a food industry which:

  • Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn;
  • Is robust in the face of future shocks;
  • Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation;
  • Is built upon a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector;
  • Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well-paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers; and
  • Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way.

The Government’s new National Food Strategy is expected to be published next year.

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