We welcome the development of a National Food Strategy at this crucial time. As an alliance, we recognise that a transition to a more sustainable food system that helps avert dangerous climate change, restores nature and improves public health requires leadership from government. The Government has a range of policy measures at its disposal from procurement to farm policy that can transform the environment where we make food choices, setting the stage to make healthier, more sustainable food choices the norm.
We are calling for a 50% reduction from current levels of meat and dairy consumption in the UK by 2030, and for a transition to ‘better’ meat and dairy as standard. It is an achievable target for the UK, sitting between business as usual and more ambitious reductions which might be necessary in the future to stay within environmental limits.
This would benefit farm animal welfare, reduce dependence on grain for feeding animals and support soil quality for the production of more plant foods for human consumption, including vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit and pulses.
There is evidence that public attitudes to sustainable diets are changing. A 2019 YouGov Survey commissioned by Eating Better showed that understanding of livestock’s environmental impact had grown by 23% since 2017. The 2019 survey also found that 48% of people in the UK are willing or already committed to cutting down or cutting out meat. Animal welfare and health remain the principal reasons for people reducing meat. Retailers are responding to this change in attitudes by marketing more plant-based foods.
People can only make healthy and sustainable food choices where they are available, so providing the right food environment will be essential. The Eating Better alliance has reached consensus on a way forward, set out in Better by half: A roadmap to less and better meat and dairy. The roadmap identifies 24 levers for government, food service, retailers, food producers and investors, outlines where change needs to happen and by who, and shows examples of best practice already happening.
First and foremost is the critical need for Government to deliver an ambitious cross-departmental food and farming strategy, ensuring that policies that impact food and farming are connected across government and contain an explicit commitment to healthy and sustainable diets. A better food environment for people needs a more holistic approach to policy making, one that brings together departments with shared interests and embeds a requirement for promoting sustainable production and consumption across government. Strategic mandatory targets should be set on key issues, including climate change, obesity, nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, food security, biodiversity, pollution control and land use change, and require departments to report on performance.
Alliance consensus is that the following present the biggest opportunities for government to drive progress in the short term as part of a comprehensive food and farming strategy:
- normalise sustainable diets through public procurement
- rebalance agricultural policy towards plant production and better meat and dairy
- require retailers to label origin and method of production for all meat and dairy
- make vegetables and better meat affordable