National Food Strategy: open letter

Chris F

Staff Member
Media
Location
Hammerwich
July 2021

Rt Hon George Eustice
Seacole Building
2 Marsham St
London SW1P 4DF

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: National Food Strategy: open letter

We are writing to you reflecting widely different experiences and communities within the farming sector, to endorse the recommendations of the National Food Strategy proposed by Henry Dimbleby.

There are some you would expect us to support. Dimbleby is forthright about the Government’s duty to protect British farming standards and suggests a practical mechanism to do so. He is clear about the need – in the public’s interest – to ring-fence the current budget for agriculture and the environment. He rightly says that Government should be explicit about the amount of land that is needed for woodland and nature restoration, and the best places for this. He says we can achieve the changes that are needed while protecting the rights and interests of all farmers, including tenants and commoners while supporting rural communities. We are glad to see him get behind your Department’s welcome plans to back practical innovation by farmers, as the driving force in regenerative, nature-friendly agriculture.

He also recommends measures that will, gradually but not insignificantly, rebalance our nation’s food culture and markets, reducing the demand for cheap, high-calorie junk food, and boosting it for fresh, high-quality produce with provenance. This can only help British farming and drive the sector’s ambition and capacity to play our full role in reversing biodiversity loss, mitigating and adapting to climate change while producing plentiful, healthy food.

Yet there are also recommendations that might make less comfortable reading for us, but which nevertheless deserve our firm backing. They are of course about eating less meat. This is such a sensitive issue, especially when UK livestock farmers are already committed to high welfare and reducing climate impacts. But as anyone who has looked seriously at the numbers knows – even those among us who champion reintroducing sheep and cattle into rotations – the reality is that people in developed countries do need to eat less meat overall, while ensuring that the meat we do eat comes from high welfare systems that support biodiversity, which the UK is well placed to achieve. The switch from industrially produced animal products, often destined for ultra-processed foods and relying on imported proteins that can drive deforestation and land use change, to regenerative systems where animals play their time-honoured role in building soil fertility and sustaining nature must happen swiftly.

The debate in farming should not be about whether this is so, but about how to make this transformation quickly and fairly, for both farmers and citizens, avoiding unintended consequences, and with the best results for the climate, nature and animal welfare, both in the UK and globally. We welcome the clarity and nuance that Dimbleby has brought to the debate and the lengths he has gone to find ways of achieving this. Specifically, his proposals that schools and hospitals should serve less but better meat, more and better fresh produce; and that the biggest businesses should show leadership by reporting what they sell, and how it is produced; are prudent first steps.

We urge you to give this report your deepest consideration, and to facilitate a positive government response rapidly. The wellbeing of future generations, and the ability of the NHS to care for society, depends on the leadership your government shows in this fundamentally important space.

Yours sincerely,

Julia Aglionby
Trustee, Susan’s Farm and Executive Director, Foundation for Common Land

Helen Browning
Farmer and Chief Executive of the Soil Association

Caroline Drummond
Chief Executive, LEAF

Jake Fiennes
Director of Conservation, Holkham Estate

Peter and Henrietta Greig
Pipers Farm

William Kendall
Farmer and entrepreneur

Alastair Leake
Director of Policy, The Game & Wildlife Trust

Martin Lines
Arable farmer and UK Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network

Sue Pritchard
Farmer and Chief Executive, The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

John Shropshire
Chairman G’s Group

Craig Livingstone
Lockerley Estate
 

Muddyroads

Member
Location
Devon
But as anyone who has looked seriously at the numbers knows – even those among us who champion reintroducing sheep and cattle into rotations – the reality is that people in developed countries do need to eat less meat overall,
Could somebody please explain this to me in words that I can understand please?
85% of my farm is grass, most of it permanent pasture, sequestering carbon and producing lamb and beef.
The other 15% grows veg. We’re organic, so no artificial fert or chemical sprays but lots of cultivations including inter row weeding. Which part of my farm has the biggest impact on the climate?
The veg we grow is seasonal, so when we’re not producing, plant based diets need to be supplemented by imports from around the world. This of course carries its own environmental impact.

Am I missing something?
 

Treg

Member
Location
Cornwall
Could somebody please explain this to me in words that I can understand please?
85% of my farm is grass, most of it permanent pasture, sequestering carbon and producing lamb and beef.
The other 15% grows veg. We’re organic, so no artificial fert or chemical sprays but lots of cultivations including inter row weeding. Which part of my farm has the biggest impact on the climate?
The veg we grow is seasonal, so when we’re not producing, plant based diets need to be supplemented by imports from around the world. This of course carries its own environmental impact.

Am I missing something?
Livestock provide 40% of the world's fertilisers, if Livestock numbers are cut there's only one way we can grow more food...the use of more artificial fertilisers which create more emissions.
 

holwellcourtfarm

Member
NFFN Member
Could somebody please explain this to me in words that I can understand please?
85% of my farm is grass, most of it permanent pasture, sequestering carbon and producing lamb and beef.
The other 15% grows veg. We’re organic, so no artificial fert or chemical sprays but lots of cultivations including inter row weeding. Which part of my farm has the biggest impact on the climate?
The veg we grow is seasonal, so when we’re not producing, plant based diets need to be supplemented by imports from around the world. This of course carries its own environmental impact.

Am I missing something?
My understanding:

It depends how you assess the impact of ruminant methane emissions. If you use current IPCC guidelines then it's your livestock. If, however, you accept that their methane emissions are inherently different in their affect from carbon emissions (and adhere to using GWP* for assessing the impact of enteric methane) then it'll be the losses from your soils due to cultivation.

Either approach can be justified depending on what you are looking to achieve.

If you aim to limit average global temperature rise to below 1.5⁰C from 1990 levels and your livestock herd has not increased in the last 12 years then it is definitively your veg production.
 

Muddyroads

Member
Location
Devon
My understanding:

It depends how you assess the impact of ruminant methane emissions. If you use current IPCC guidelines then it's your livestock. If, however, you accept that their methane emissions are inherently different in their affect from carbon emissions (and adhere to using GWP* for assessing the impact of enteric methane) then it'll be the losses from your soils due to cultivation.

Either approach can be justified depending on what you are looking to achieve.

If you aim to limit average global temperature rise to below 1.5⁰C from 1990 levels and your livestock herd has not increased in the last 12 years then it is definitively your veg production.
The trouble for me is that it doesn’t really feel like science if you can just choose who you want to believe according to your end game ideals.
 

DaveGrohl

Member
Location
Cumbria
The trouble for me is that it doesn’t really feel like science if you can just choose who you want to believe according to your end game ideals.
Well the answer is that it isn't actually science if you view methane in the simplistic fashion that the IPCC have done up to now. But then attempting to stop climate change by only looking at food in this simplistic sense will get us nowhere fast.
 

delilah

Member
Will the NFU distance themselves from this letter and, in particular, the continued anti meat rhetoric?

Quite.
Trouble is, as highlighted the day the food strategy came out, the NFU uniquely had a seat on both of Mr Dimbleby's advisory bodies. Bit awkward to distance yourself from something you helped produce.

On the upside, it's just a frothy letter from a few luvvies. The Dimbleby strategy is already gathering dust on bookshelves, or whatever the modern day equivalent of that is. In failing to address any of the issues that matter, the other side of the farm gate, it is two years of effort that amounts to the square root of sweet fa.
 

holwellcourtfarm

Member
NFFN Member
The trouble for me is that it doesn’t really feel like science if you can just choose who you want to believe according to your end game ideals.
That's because it's run by politicians, not scientists. It's like the NHS is always a compromise because it's ultimately run by politicians who want to buy votes not by the senior clinicians based on clinical need. If it was run by the latter then lots of services would cease and many current patients would be told to grow up, take personal responsibility and manage their health better. Politically that message is unacceptable and it would cost elections.

The sixth IPCC report is due out soon. Each one is a masterpiece of achieving agreement. Theoretically it sets out the current best scientific understanding of climate science and how to proceed. In reality it only publishes the science that every member agrees to see published after months of wrangling. It might recommend methane is assessed using GWP* from now on. Then again, it might not.

It's clear that GWP* is scientifically the right way to assess methane but the repercussions for political policy may be seen as unacceptable. It'd force society to refocus on fossil fuel use instead of demonising ruminants and accepting offsetting. I'm hopeful, but not holding my breath.
 

DaveGrohl

Member
Location
Cumbria
That's because it's run by politicians, not scientists. It's like the NHS is always a compromise because it's ultimately run by politicians who want to buy votes not by the senior clinicians based on clinical need. If it was run by the latter then lots of services would cease and many current patients would be told to grow up, take personal responsibility and manage their health better. Politically that message is unacceptable and it would cost elections.

The sixth IPCC report is due out soon. Each one is a masterpiece of achieving agreement. Theoretically it sets out the current best scientific understanding of climate science and how to proceed. In reality it only publishes the science that every member agrees to see published after months of wrangling. It might recommend methane is assessed using GWP* from now on. Then again, it might not.

It's clear that GWP* is scientifically the right way to assess methane but the repercussions for political policy may be seen as unacceptable. It'd force society to refocus on fossil fuel use instead of demonising ruminants and accepting offsetting. I'm hopeful, but not holding my breath.
I'll be astonished if they actually grow a pair and use GWP*. The runaway bandwagon that has reached breakneck speed since their last effort was ultimately fuelled by their use of GWP100. For them to change at this stage would be politically quite extraordinary.
 

holwellcourtfarm

Member
NFFN Member
Zoë Harcombe's Monday note to her subscribers this week is about the NFS.

She methodically (as usual) makes the point that, for a "Food Strategy", there is strikingly little in the report about detailed nutrition. It's all about calories with no focus on things like the quality of protein offered or where people will get their essential micronutrients.

She's angry that the report just accepts the standard government "Eatwell plate" diet recommendations, which are now clearly incompatible with current nutritional knowledge and clearly greatly influenced by the lobbying of the processed food industry, when a report like this should be starting out by challenging it. She makes the point that the report is mostly about climate impact, not human nutritional impact.

When her analysis is combined with the information presented by Dr Anne Mottet in the video @Treg Posted above then it reveals serious holes in the approach of the report. Initially I thought it was quite a good report, now I've revised my view.
 

Hindsight

Member
Location
Lincolnshire
COP26 in Glasgow looms on the near horizon. The Prime Minister ( will require some (several) media headline statements to show UK is leading the way in reducing emissions. So just assume that whatever is considered by the experts to make significant contribution will be the focus. Seems to me every time see anything in media the rhetoric is against meat and dairy products and pro vegetables. For COP26 I assume that is the direction of flow. And thus meat and livestock will be 'thrown under the bus'. Not sure how the politicos are going to fudge chicken as it is so popular - resume they do not produce directly methane. Ah well.
 

delilah

Member
COP26 in Glasgow looms on the near horizon. The Prime Minister ( will require some (several) media headline statements to show UK is leading the way in reducing emissions. So just assume that whatever is considered by the experts to make significant contribution will be the focus. Seems to me every time see anything in media the rhetoric is against meat and dairy products and pro vegetables. For COP26 I assume that is the direction of flow. And thus meat and livestock will be 'thrown under the bus'. Not sure how the politicos are going to fudge chicken as it is so popular - resume they do not produce directly methane. Ah well.

There will be an NFU stand at COP26, explaining to delegates and the media that cows are part of the solution and that the only environmentally sustainable food chain is one based around the provision of fresh, local food. (y) .
 

LIVE - DEFRA SFI Janet Hughes “ask me anything” 19:00-20:00 20th September (Today)

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Hello, I’m Janet Hughes. I’m the Programme Director for the Future Farming and Countryside Programme in Defra – the programme that’s phasing out the Common Agricultural Policy and introducing new schemes and services for farmers.



Today (20 September) between 7pm-8pm, I and some of my colleagues will be answering your questions about our work including the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Farming in Protected Landscapes, and our test and trials.



We’ll try to answer at least 15 of your top voted questions, so please vote on the questions you’d most like me to answer.



You can read more about our Future Farming policy on our blog.



I’ve answered some of your questions previously: you can watch the videos on...
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