Boris Johnson’s new food strategy for England contains virtually no new measures to tackle rising food prices, childhood hunger, obesity or the climate crisis, according to a leaked version of the white paper.
The strategy, seen by the Guardian and expected to be published Monday, would be a groundbreaking response to recommendations from restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, who wrote two government-commissioned reports on obesity and the environment.
Dimbleby made a number of high-profile suggestions, including expanding free school meals, raising environmental and welfare standards in agriculture and cutting meat and dairy consumption by 30%.
But the thin 27-page document makes few recommendations, refusing to address the contribution of food prices to the cost of living crisis or calls for less meat and dairy consumption.
Some of the few policy proposals include the suggestion that more fish could be farmed, which is environmentally controversial, and an increase in the use of “responsibly sourced wild venison”.
The strategy was described by Labor as “bordering on ridiculous” for the lack of concrete proposals on food prices and “worse than half-baked” by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace.
Johnson has recently postponed measures to tackle obesity and is under fire for not doing enough to help families with the cost of living, with inflation at 9%.
While the white paper accepts that food prices are a big part of the tightness many families face, and that many low-income people struggle to eat, it suggests that this is not the job of a government food strategy.
The white paper focuses instead on “longer-term measures” to support the food system rather than “duplicating work on the cost of living” – citing the Treasury’s £15 billion bailout package aimed at reducing of the energy bill. It sidesteps growing demands from teachers and others to extend the right to free school meals to an additional 1 million children living in poverty, though it says the idea “will be watched”.
It boasts that it has “made it easier” for young low-income families to apply for and use the Healthy Start fruit and vegetable coupon scheme — while ignoring Dimbleby’s criticisms of the program’s shortcomings, its appeal to expand it, as well as overlook recent issues with the digital portion of the scheme.
“The government is committed to a sustainable, long-term approach to tackling poverty and supporting people on lower incomes, helping them find work and progress and lead fulfilled lives,” it says.
The white paper also ignores Dimbleby’s proposals for a tax on sugar and salt used in processed foods as a way to escape what he called the “junk food cycle.” Dimbleby insisted that bold regulatory action was needed to tackle the huge and growing market for unhealthy foods, rather than relying on consumer education and voluntary agreements with the food industry.
But while the white paper accepts that obesity is common, with 64% of adults and 40% of children overweight, it makes clear that there is no great desire for state intervention, and emphasizes the importance of individual responsibility and choice in influencing of the demand for healthy foods.
Experts had also urged the government to cut meat and dairy consumption to improve land use and tackle the climate crisis. Dimbleby called for a 30% reduction and Greenpeace a more ambitious 70%. In his summary, Dimbleby states: “Careful animal husbandry can be a boon for the environment, but our current appetite for meat is unsustainable: 85% of farmland is used to feed livestock. We need some of that land.”
However, the government is making no such commitment, instead opening a consultation on new technologies to help livestock produce less methane. Attention is also paid to regenerative livestock farming, which uses more land than intensive agriculture to produce less protein.
It states: “Sustainable protein sources do not have to be new or new or supplant traditional sectors. Regenerative farming will also allow for more sustainable production of traditional protein sources. The use of livestock for the benefit of the environment in balance with food production is already advocated by many small-scale farmers.”
A new announcement in the white paper deals with animal welfare. Ministers plan to make it easier for countries to trade with the UK if they have strong animal welfare legislation in place.
The report also mentions an expansion of aquaculture – fish farming – to potentially replace some meat in the diet. This is despite the fact that fish farming is often very harmful to the environment.
Deer stalkers will also benefit from the report, as one of the few new announcements is that the government “will seek to increase the use of responsibly sourced game game, which would otherwise have been thrown away, into the food chain”.
Environmentalists collaborating on the strategy said it was “worse than they expected” — and they didn’t have high hopes.
There are also concerns that the report signals a weakening of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), as no land-use change targets are mentioned.
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon was highly critical of the leaked strategy. “The UK is in a cost of living crisis with rising food prices, falling real wages, plummeting growth and rising taxes. It is now clear that the government has absolutely no ambition to fix the mess they have caused,” he said.
“A food strategy is vital, but the government has hesitated, postponed and now has done nothing. This is nothing more than a statement of vague intentions, not the concrete proposals to tackle the major problems facing our country. To call it a food strategy borders on the absurd.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the environment, food and rural affairs, added: “The conservatives’ food strategy has no solution to solve the cost of living crisis and nothing for the millions of people struggling to put food on the table. to get.
“By doing nothing to help farmers across the country, the government is guaranteeing higher food prices for nearly a generation.”
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests at Greenpeace UK, said: “The government’s food strategy is not just half-baked, it’s flatter than a pancake and missing most of the crucial ingredients needed to really deliver our long-term food security. Instead of heeding warnings from climate scientists about the urgent need to cut meat production, ministers seem to be pushing UK farmers to produce even more of it.”
Ben Reynolds, deputy director of food and agriculture charity Sustain, added: “We understand that the government’s food strategy white paper will recognize the many challenges facing our food system, but fall short of strong policies supported by legislation, needed to make wholesale change.
“The Dimbleby review generated a lot of understanding and appetite for change. Health activists, businesses, food companies and investors have all called for government intervention to help prevent the health, climate and wildlife crises caused by our food system. We welcome all the mandatory industry and public sector responsibilities that help make healthy and sustainable food the norm, but if the government publishes a white paper with little more than warmed-up commitments, consultations and assessments, it will only turn heads. take down. away.”