by | December 18, 2019 | Opinion

A sustainable food strategy: creating an enabling food environment

By Elena Salazar, Campaigns Manager at Eating Better

Earlier this year, the UK Government commissioned a review to underpin its first National Food Strategy in 75 years. Eating Better, an alliance of over 60 civil society organisations working together to catalyse shifts towards healthy and sustainable food and farming, contributed to the consultation with a roadmap towards more sustainable food and farming. Our insight from the UK process may be informative as the European Commission has committed to launch the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy for sustainable food.

 We advised Government that an effective sustainable food strategy means setting the stage for people to make healthier, more sustainable food choices. We set out the need to encourage people to eat less meat and dairy, and transition to ‘better’ production as standard. From farm to fork, this approach means full system change.

The rationale to move to ‘less and better’ meat and dairy is well documented. At the EU level, a 50% reduction would have substantial benefits for nature and environment, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 25-40% and polluting nitrogen by 40%, and use 23% less cropland for food production per person. ‘Better’ production systems focus on farming with fewer inputs and animals. They deliver public goods alongside food products, such as high nature value farming, improved farm animal welfare, reduced dependence on soy and grain for animal feed and improved soil quality. Shifting to diets rich in plant foods will also have significant public health benefits.

 We have mapped a way forward that has broad support in our ‘Better by half: A roadmap to less and better meat and dairy’, with 24 levers for government, food service, retailers, food producers and investors. to drive progress. It presents a framework for policy makers to normalise sustainable diets, with tools ranging from harnessing public procurement and land use policy to requiring retailers to label origin and method of production for all meat and dairy and making vegetables and ‘better’ meat affordable. It also provides examples of best practice already happening.

A key recommendation is to rebalance agricultural policy towards plant production and better meat and dairy, encouraging agroecology, agroforestry and mixed farming approaches. This means driving a transition to ‘better’ livestock farming and moving away from intensive, unsustainable modes of production for plant and animal foods. Specifically, it will include implementing a system of payments for public goods that rewards increasing biodiversity and tree cover, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution. Comprehensive advice should be available to ensure the profitability of sustainable farms and uptake of environmental schemes.

People can only make healthy and sustainable food choices where they are available. Farmers and producers are part of the solution to the climate and biodiversity crises. They need the right incentives to move towards production in tune with nature that supports people to eat healthy, sustainable and affordable food.

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