As the UK's 'net zero' deadline moves ever closer, calls for UK food production methods to change grow louder. The latest of these voices comes in the form of the UK Treasury backed Dasgupta Report, which concludes that the global food industry is failing and seeks fundamental changes to UK food production methods in order to protect the natural world, with a move away from the perception that 'buying British' is necessarily best.
Reconciling these conclusions with campaigns which focus on the benefits of buying British food is far from easy, however, and risks leaving consumers bewildered. Recent claims that buying British food is best have been used to promote a range of causes, covering issues such as the UK's exit from the EU, international trade and climate change.
The two issues are not, of course, mutually exclusive. It is possible to adapt certain farming practices (and make it financially viable for UK food producers to do so) whilst also calling for consumers to buy British food where possible. The new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which is replacing the EU subsidy scheme in the UK, is intended to encourage more sustainable farming practices and support the environment. However, there is more that can (and, it is argued, must) be done to develop and support sustainable food production in the UK. This could range from vertical farming systems and cultured meat facilities, through to approval for insect farms in order to provide alternative protein sources. The opportunities to think big are there but it requires a joined up approach within government and the food sector as a whole.
Achieving this is a huge task but there is broad agreement that change is necessary. The question is how much and how quickly such change is embraced. The bolder the UK is, however, the stronger the claim will be that consumers should 'buy British'.
The global food industry is failing. Failing the environment, failing biodiversity, failing the natural world upon which we all rely. While the world produces more food than ever, rescuing millions of individuals from hunger, it has also come at a cost we have so far failed to fully quantify. So goes the argument of the landmark Dasgupta Review, launched today. The 600-page review, commissioned by the UK Treasury, advocates a fundamental rethink of the way we approach our food’s relationship with the natural world. “Our demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply us,” it argues, adding that we must find new measures to assess the importance of nature if we are to protect it.