England’s food strategy dodges big questions about health and the environment – Low Calorie Diets Tips

A major policy paper fails to address major health and environmental issues that it should address, such as:

Surroundings


| analysis

June 13, 2022

A tractor cultivates soil in West Sussex, UK

DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

A new diet strategy for England released today has already drawn criticism from government dietitian Henry Dimbleby, who says the plan only contains around half of his recommendations. The blueprint, developed to address a range of health and environmental issues, has also drawn the ire of environmentalists.

Much of the concern is what is being left out, such as steps to switch diets away from greenhouse gas-intensive meat. Dimbleby called for a 30 per cent reduction in meat consumption in 10 years and for behavioral nudges rather than a ‘meat tax’. But the strategy refrains from any mention of reducing meat consumption. What it includes are plans for randomized controlled trials over the next three years to provide evidence that could later lead to “long-term dietary change strategies.” The impetus to eat less meat is therefore a long way off.

Alternative proteins like Quorn are briefly mentioned, but there are no promises of new money, guidelines, or details on how people might be encouraged to switch to them.

Instead, the strategy focuses on feeding livestock additives to curb their methane emissions. Jamie Newbold of Scotland’s Rural College, an expert on additives, says there’s evidence they reduce emissions. But he says steep cuts will also require a change in behavior – which means we need to eat less meat. And feeding animals with additives will be a “big challenge,” he says, because almost all of England’s cows and sheep graze in fields.

The strategy has been accused of missing out on plans to help nature. Dimbleby called for £500-700m a year in green farm subsidies to help nature recover and store carbon on farmland. The government has developed a landscape restoration program to support such projects and Environment Secretary George Eustice has said so New scientist that the program will be an important long-term pathway to help achieve net-zero targets by expanding forest cover and restoring peatlands. Still, the Government confirmed a week ago that it would cap payments from the scheme at £50million over the next three years. Barnaby Coupe of The Wildife Trusts, a non-profit organization, says he is concerned the program has been “watered down”.

The strategy promises a “land-use framework” next year to balance competing needs, such as the call from the Independent Committee on Climate Change to convert a fifth of farmland to carbon storage rather than food production. The issue is controversial within the government. A leaked version of the strategy seen by New scientist, said bluntly, “We don’t need to reduce domestic food production to meet our broader environmental goals.” The final version dropped that. The leaked version also implicitly defended changes to the Landscape Recovery Scheme, saying it was better to be guided by farmer demand than a “fixed and inflexible allocation” of funds. That too was dropped.

Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers’ Union, said she was pleased with the change in landscape restoration funding. “Our concern was that you effectively had 33 percent of the budget [for farming subsidies] go to less than 5 percent of the land area,” she says. She adds that what is particularly missing from the strategy is how farmers deal with inflation at their expense.

Elsewhere, there is talk of research into organic-based fertilizers, but nothing concrete about what to do with fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, which are becoming increasingly expensive and can lead to air and water pollution. £270m will be committed to innovation, from carbon storage to genetically modified crops and automated robotics, to help horticulture tackle labor shortages. And the government said it will get big companies to report on the greenhouse gas emissions from people consuming their food and drink (known as Scope 3 emissions).

These small steps are welcome, but as Dimbleby puts it, they don’t create “a vision for the whole system”. This is a nutritional strategy that eludes the big environmental questions it had to answer.

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