1) The food and drink industry has an important role to play in the government’s levelling up agenda. It is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, bigger than the aerospace and automotive industries combined. UK agri-food and seafood sectors create over £120 billion of value for the economy every year and employ over 4 million people. Working with government, they underpin our food security: demonstrating great resilience when dealing with disruption at national and international levels, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently through the conflict in Ukraine.
2) The agri-food sector is in every region of the nation, creating wealth and employment. Whether it’s Scotch Whisky, the Cumberland sausage, Fenland Celery, Worcestershire sauce, the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, countless cheeses, or Cornish Clotted Cream, every part of Britain has its local specialities and recipes which contribute to local identity and pride in place. Throughout history, the food and drink industry has invested in people and communities up and down the country.
3) In 2018, the UK government asked Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and a non-executive director of Defra, to carry out a comprehensive review of our food system – ‘the independent review.’ He was asked to design recommendations so that our food system: “Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where (people) live or how much they earn” and “restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country.” The scope focused on England but making consideration of our relationship with the devolved administrations (DAs), the European Union (EU) and other trading partners. The independent review was a powerful analysis of the challenges facing the food system, centred on two diagnoses – described as the ‘Junk Food Cycle’ and the ‘Invisibility of Nature’. You can read the analysis and recommendations in detail in the National food strategy for England.
4) This strategy responds to the review, and includes policy initiatives to boost health, sustainability, accessibility of diets and to secure food supply, ensuring that domestic producers and the wider food and drink industry contributes to the levelling up agenda and makes the most of post-Brexit opportunities.
5) The strategy comes at a time of significant increases in food prices, largely because of energy prices and exacerbated by events in Ukraine, which is very challenging for people across the country. We are engaging closely with the food industry to understand price impacts and any mitigating measures, including through our Food Industry Resilience Forum and UK Agricultural Market Monitoring Group. We are also working closely with third sector organisations to understand challenges related to food access.
6) We know the cost of food has real consequences for people across the country. The broader affordability of food, and individuals’ access to food, is a key element of the government’s approach to tackling poverty as we learn to live with recent events and manage the impact of cost-of-living pressures. The Chancellor announced a £15 billion cost of living support package on 26 May 2022, including taking £400 off household energy bills and providing a £650 cost of living payment to the most vulnerable households; this was in addition to the previously announced £22 billion support (in total the package is now £37 billion). Other measures to help those in most need include: the reduction in the Universal Credit taper rate, raising the threshold for National Insurance, cutting fuel duty, and providing locally administered support to help with household essentials. The government is committed to a sustainable, long-term approach to tackling poverty and supporting people on lower incomes, helping them to enter and progress in work and lead fulfilled lives.
7) This food strategy focuses on longer-term measures to support a resilient, healthier, and more sustainable food system that is affordable to all. It is complementary to wider government work on cost of living, setting out measures which will ease supply chain bottlenecks and improve efficiency, therefore reducing pressures on the cost of food; it includes measures to support good quality jobs around the country; and it also sets out how we will continue to support children and families on low incomes to learn and eat healthily through various initiatives such as the Healthy Start Scheme, free school meals, breakfast clubs and the Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF). Whilst we strive to transform the food system in the long-term and unlock the benefits of healthier and more sustainable diets, we will, at all phases of policy development, champion consumer interests and seek to minimise food prices impacts.
8) This strategy will help ensure we deliver on this government’s ambition for a prosperous agri-food sector, and that healthier and more sustainable diets can be achieved by all. It is not a comprehensive summary of everything that government is doing to improve our food system, or the actions being taken by industry and other key actors. It instead articulates some of the key priorities for action within our food system; new opportunities available to us following Brexit; and opportunities to support levelling up.
9) Our objectives for this strategy are to deliver:
- a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world and contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country
- a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all
- trade that provides export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported
10) To achieve these objectives we will seek to:
- broadly maintain the current level of food we produce domestically, including sustainably boosting production in sectors where there are post-Brexit opportunities including horticulture and seafood
- ensure that by 2030, pay, employment and productivity, as well as completion of high-quality skills training will have risen in the agri-food industry in every area of the UK, to support our production and levelling up objectives
- halve childhood obesity by 2030, reducing the healthy life expectancy (HLE) gap between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030, adding 5 years to HLE by 2035 and reducing the proportion of the population living with diet-related illnesses; and to support this, increasing the proportion of healthier food sold
- reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the environmental impacts of the food system, in line with our net zero commitments and biodiversity targets and preparing for the risks from a changing climate
- contribute to our export strategy goal to reach £1 trillion of exports annually by 2030 and supporting more UK food and drink businesses, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to take advantage of new market access and free trade agreements (FTAs) post-Brexit
- maintain high standards for food consumed in the UK, wherever it is produced
11) We will publish a report to monitor progress against the food strategy goals, listed in paragraph 10, alongside the next UK Food Security report and will continue to do so regularly at a frequency that allows trends to emerge, and dovetails with other relevant publications. This will draw on independent analysis from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Office for Environment Protection (OEP).
12) As with Henry Dimbleby’s independent review, the scope of this strategy is for England, as food policy is devolved. The themes broadly overlap but we have gone further in places, for example, on levelling up and labour.
13) Defra is responsible for food policy. However, the policy levers that influence the food system are dispersed across government. To implement this strategy, we will:
- join-up within government to collectively drive progress
- work closely with the DAs, reflecting that the food system operates on a UK-wide basis
- champion a collaborative approach by working in partnership with industry and civil society
14) Our assessment is that we have existing powers in primary legislation to implement the measures in this strategy. However, we will seek primary or secondary legislation as required to achieve our objectives. Before doing so, we will consult fully on all policy changes in the usual way.
Summary of key measures
15) The key new measures and proposals in this strategy to deliver against our objectives are below.
16) Objective 1: To deliver a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world and contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country.
- The continued production of healthier, high quality, tasty food and drink domestically remains of vital importance for our economy and food security. We will support farmers to broadly maintain levels of domestic production through productivity gain and our new farming schemes. We will enable growth in key sectors, including horticulture and seafood, making the most of post-Brexit opportunities.
- Innovation will be a key component to sustainably boost production and profitability across the supply chain. We have committed to spend over £270 million through our Farming Innovation Programme and are supporting £120 million investment in research across the food system in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in addition to other funding packages. We will also develop a joint vision with industry for agri-food innovation, identifying shared priority areas for investment and coordination. Through funding and improving our regulatory frameworks post-Brexit we will support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins and gene editing, and we will launch a Call for Evidence of the use of feed additives to reduce methane emissions from livestock. We will also work with the agricultural sector to develop a What Works Centre to provide farmers with evidence that supports the adoption and on-farm take up of new innovations.
- It is essential that there is a sufficient, qualified, and well-paid workforce to support every food and drink business, dispersed around the whole country. To address near term need, the government will release the additional provision of 10,000 visas under the Seasonal Worker Visa Route, including 2,000 for the poultry sector. This means that in total 40,000 visas will be made available for seasonal workers in 2022, providing labour for food businesses across the UK. We will also work with industry to support the upcoming Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) review of the Shortage Occupation List. In addition, we will commission an independent review to assess and ensure the quantity and quality of the food sector workforce. The review will encompass the roles of automation, domestic employment and migration routes.
- Ensuring our agri-food industry workforce has the necessary skills to take advantage of new and emerging innovations will help drive greater efficiency and production. We will work with industry to review existing skills programmes, identify improvements, and tackle barriers that currently prevent uptake. This should help to drive up completion of skills training, pay and productivity in all areas of the UK to support levelling up.
17) Objective 2: To deliver a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all.
- Our food system must not only feed our nation today but also protect it for tomorrow. We will use the Agriculture Act (2020), Fisheries Act (2020) and Environment Act (2021) as frameworks to incentivise farmers and food producers to adopt more sustainable practices.
- We will publish a land use framework in 2023 to ensure we meet our net zero and biodiversity targets, and help our farmers adapt to a changing climate, whilst continuing to produce high quality, affordable produce that supports a healthier diet.
- We will undertake a programme of randomised control trials to develop a suite of evidence based and value for money interventions to encourage and enable healthier and more sustainable diets. The findings will enable government to channel resources towards the most effective interventions as we work towards developing largescale and long-term policies to shift diets.
- As announced in the Levelling Up white paper, we want to spark a school food revolution. We will introduce a suite of measures to improve school food and build a strong food curriculum, including up to £5 million to deliver a school cooking revolution and a new pilot for local authorities to assure school compliance with school food standards. This will support every child leaving secondary school to achieve a healthier lifestyle and paves the way for a future generation to work in our food system.
- The strategy launches our Food Data Transparency Partnership. This provides a unique opportunity to leverage the collective energy and enthusiasm found across the food system and drive a real transformation in health, animal welfare and environmental outcomes through our food. We will consult on implementing mandatory public reporting against a set of health metrics and explore a similar approach to sustainability and animal welfare. We will also provide consumers with the information they need to make more sustainable, ethical, and healthier food choices and incentivise industry to produce healthier and more ethical and sustainable food. The partnership will ensure we have a robust framework for tackling some of the fundamental questions for our food system, raising transparency and responsibility.
- We will consult on Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF). This consultation will include whether to widen the scope of GBSF mandatory organisations to cover the whole public sector and introducing an aspirational target that at least 50% of food spend must be on food produced locally or certified to higher environmental production standards, while maintaining value for money for taxpayers.
18) Objective 3: To deliver export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported.
Trade strengthens food security and enables the whole country to have access to food and drink that would be impossible or impractical to produce domestically. We will harness the benefits of new FTAs, made possible following Brexit, whilst maintaining our world-leading domestic standards by using a range of levers within our bespoke trade agreements. We will shortly publish a statement on our independent animal health and production regime which will inform our negotiations. We will ensure British businesses are well placed to take advantage of the growing export opportunities available to them through these deals, including by placing agri-food attachés at our embassies in major trading partner countries. We will also continue to work internationally to create a more resilient, environmentally friendly and healthier global food system.
Response and discussion of the Government's strategy and how it relates to the National Food Strategy on LinkedIn below or here
Collated responses by the Food & Countryside Commission here filmed at Groundswell - https://ffcc.co.uk/news-and-press/where-does-the-food-strategy-leave-us