Q&A: Will England’s National Food Strategy help tackle climate change?

Last week, sequel of Englands National Food Strategy (NFS) was published, supplying a broad overview of the state of the “food system”– an all-inclusive term that covers the production, processing, transport and intake of food– in England..

The report, which is more than 150 pages long, lays out 14 suggestions for the UK government to consider, including financial incentives, reporting and trade standards and targets for long-lasting change in the food system..

The government has committed to producing a white paper and proposals for future laws in reaction within the next 6 months, although the early reaction from UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been “noncommittal” to many of the NFS propositions, according to the Guardian.

The NFS is the conclusion of more than 2 years worth of meetings and discussions with market leaders, academics, policymakers and the public.

In this Q&A, Carbon Brief describes and takes a look at the report how its suggestions align– or do not line up– with the UKs climate targets and decarbonisation goals.

The first part of the strategy, published in July 2020, provided suggestions for the federal government to address food insecurity and hunger in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The recently published 2nd part has the mentioned goal of supplying a “detailed strategy for transforming the food system”..

What is the National Food Strategy?

Its objective was to offer a roadmap for transforming the food system from its existing state to one that is healthier for the population and the planet..

The NFS has certainly brought these problems to the leading edge, Edward Davey, the international engagement director of the Food and Land Use Coalition, tells Carbon Brief.

Some have criticised the recommendation to tax wholesale sugar and salt as unfair or as disproportionately affecting lower-income families. Others say that the measures laid out in the report do not go far adequate towards making the food system more sustainable.

Although the scope of the report covers England alone, it keeps in mind that the house nations “food systems are so tightly linked as to be in locations inextricable”. It continues that it hopes the devolved governments “might in turn find some beneficial ideas” in the technique.

Davey adds that, in his view, “every country worldwide would take advantage of doing something of this kind”.

” The worldwide food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, dry spell, freshwater pollution and the collapse of water wildlife. It is the second-biggest factor to environment change, after the energy industry.”.

The report itself calls the food system “both a wonder and a catastrophe”. While the existing food system can feeding the “biggest worldwide population in human history”, it states, this comes at a high environmental expense. The report notes:.

The reaction to last weeks release saw members of parliament, celebrity chefs and even rockstars weighing in on its significance.

This report by @food_strategy has some fascinating and far reaching concepts that would mean a big change for the much better in our food system and make all of us much healthier. I hope that these plans will be used up by this federal government. https://t.co/gl5rZJCrhO— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) July 15, 2021.

The NFS was commissioned by the UK government in 2019 as the first independent review of the governments food policy in almost three-quarters of a century.

Why is the food strategy essential for tackling environment change?

Almost half of all food-related emissions are due to agriculture, including rearing animals. The methane produced by cows and other ruminants is “approximated to have actually caused a third of overall worldwide warming because the commercial transformation”, the report notes.

Research study suggests that the food system is accountable for about one-third of international greenhouse gas emissions. And the numbers are about the exact same for the UK, Dr Marco Springmann, a population health researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, informs Carbon Brief. (The NFS report puts that figure at 19%, however various studies draw various limits around what counts as the food sector.).

The food system has actually seen significantly smaller sized decreases in sector-wide emissions since 2008 as compared to the economy as a whole: economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by almost one-third considering that 2008, however food-related emissions have reduced by just 13% over the very same time..

” Without attending to the emissions of the food system, it will not be possible to fulfill those environment modification obligations [set out by law] and to add to mitigating environment modification.”.

” Theres rather a great deal of siloed considering the food system. From the point of view of integrated national policymaking that provides, its fantastic.”.

Trying to create a healthier population while farming in a less destructive way requires cooperation throughout disciplines, Davey tells Carbon Brief. He states:.

Other major contributors to the emissions include food, fertiliser and transport manufacturing and product packaging..

Greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector as a percentage of the 2008 emissions in that sector. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

Under its commitments to the Paris Agreement, the UK has actually promised to minimize emissions from 1990 levels by 68% by 2030. The government has also set a legally binding target to accomplish net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Springmann states:.

Practically all of the gains made in the food sector have actually been due to cleaner energy and increased efficiency in the energy sector. Changes due to farming have been minimal– as seen by the big green bar in the chart below.

What parts of the food strategy could make the biggest effect on environment modification?

Davey calls the suggestions a “great starting point”. He adds:.

A number of the recommendations made in the report relate in some method to environment change or environmental sustainability. These suggestions consist of:.

Ensuring financing for farming payments until a minimum of 2029 at the existing level of ₤ 2.4 bn in order to help in the shift to sustainable farming. The report likewise states that at least ₤ 500m of this needs to be “ring-fenced” for plans that motivate environment remediation and carbon sequestration, such as peatland repair. Creating a “rural land usage structure” that will encourage on the finest manner in which any provided piece of land need to be used– whether for nature, bioenergy, something or agriculture else. The proposed structure uses the “three compartment design”, which strives for a balance in between semi-natural land, low-yield farmland and high-yield farmland to satisfy the targets of both sustainability and food production.Investing ₤ 1bn in UK Research and Innovation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as smaller centres to stimulate development to “produce a better food system”. The funds would be focused on innovating fruit and veggie production, methane suppressants and alternative proteins, amongst other areas. Lowering meat consumption by 30% over the next decade. The report stops brief of advising a tax on meat to achieve this objective (as it recommends for sugar and salt purchased wholesale). Instead, it specifies, the government must intend for “nudging customers into altering their practices”. Presenting obligatory reporting on a range of metrics for food companies using more than 250 individuals. These metrics would consist of the tonnage of food waste generated.Creating a nationwide food system information programme, which would enable companies and the federal government to examine their development on the goals set out in the report. The program would consist of both the land-use data and the mandatory reporting information explained above. Bringing these two types of information together, the report writes, will assist “develop a clear, available and progressing photo of the impact our diet plan has on nature, environment and public health”.

” The concern is how rapidly will those reforms truly address the environment challenge … I think the jurys out. Is it not as enthusiastic as it should be, from the point of view of what the land sector needs to do to accomplish the UK nationwide targets?

What are the constraints of the food technique in attending to climate modification?

” If you take the food system as a holistic thing, then you really need to attend to all sort of issues. And if you wish to address effectively the environmental concerns, plus the health issues, you really need to address the overconsumption of animal-sourced foods in our diets.”.

Gill likewise notes that the report, while comprehensive, does not totally consider the unexpected consequences of its recommendations. For example, a much greater percentage of fresh vegetables and fruits is lost than meat. The suggestions to consume less meat may increase the quantity of food waste.

The food system “is very complex”, Gill states, “however I dont believe thats any excuse for not in fact highlighting a few of those issues right at the start”.

Limousin beef livestock in a barn feeding on hay, Selside UK. Credit: John Bentley/ Alamy Stock Photo.

The report also “actually shied” far from taking a strong position on decreasing meat consumption, Springmann says, with effect on both the environment and public health. He states:.

The suggestion towards investing in innovation lists alternative proteins as an essential location in need of research study funding. Springmann states, the alternative-protein industry is already really well-developed. He tells Carbon Brief:.

The commissioning of the report– it was led by business owner and restaurateur Henry Dimbleby– indicates the report itself “shows a bit of a manipulated focus” towards business-focused options, Springmann says.

” Another thing that appears to be missing out on is that foresighting, wheres the world going to from other sectors … Theres going to be a change in farming … And its going to take years [for the recommendations in the report] to come to fruition by which time the world might have altered.”.

The recommendations “appear to be almost sort of looking backwards rather than looking forward”, Prof Maggie Gill of the University of Aberdeen, tells Carbon Brief. She includes:.

” There are already lots of meat replaces on the market and much more so when you consider natural meat substitutes like more beans, lentils and those kinds of things … Explaining more plainly that sustainable and healthy diet plan does not necessarily require to include processed meat options would have been essential, but that was missed out on there and instead this sort of pro-business angle was taken.”.

How does the food technique address the competing interests of farming land usage and land use for carbon sequestration?

” Implementation of any of those recommendations actually requires political will … The recommendations themselves could have been more progressive, but even the ones that exist dont appear to resonate really much with policymakers that are in power at the moment.”.

” The type of land that could provide the greatest ecological benefits is often not extremely agriculturally productive. The most productive 33% of English land produces around 60% of the total output of the land, while the bottom 33% only produces 15%.”.

The chart below programs how all land in the UK is designated (left) and just how much overseas land is utilized to produce food for the UK (ideal).

Sharelines from this story.

The UKs Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually estimated that just over 20% of agricultural land must be rewilded or converted to bioenergy or other, non-agricultural crops in order to attain net-zero by 2050. The NFS report states:.

The report keeps in mind that with the ideal rewards for farmers to repurpose their land, the technique might be equally beneficial towards farmers and the environment. It mentions:.

Developing the strategy will involve gathering data on agricultural efficiency, concern nature locations for preservation (such as existing peatlands) and highly polluted areas. It will likewise construct on work such as Englands trees and peat action strategies– released earlier this year– in order to recognize the land finest fit for nature remediation..

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As a result, the report states, the food system is being “asked to perform a feat of balancings” in supplying sufficient land to produce the essential food, but likewise to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

UK land location divided up by function. About 70% is dedicated to agriculture, mainly livestock and animals feed and pasture. The right-hand side of the chart, utilizing the very same scale, demonstrates how much land is utilized abroad to produce food for the UK. About half of the overall land usage occurs overseas. The combined acreage for raising beef and lamb for UK intake is larger than the UK itself. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

However, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has actually already indicated his hesitancy to support some of the policy suggestions laid out in the report. This does not bode well for the reports adoption, alerts Springmann:.

The report itself calls the food system “both a disaster and a miracle”. The proposed structure uses the “3 compartment model”, which strives for a balance between semi-natural land, low-yield farmland and high-yield farmland to meet the targets of both sustainability and food production.Investing ₤ 1bn in UK Research and Innovation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as smaller sized centres to spur innovation to “develop a much better food system”. These metrics would consist of the tonnage of food waste generated.Creating a nationwide food system data program, which would enable organizations and the federal government to examine their development on the goals laid out in the report. The right-hand side of the chart, utilizing the same scale, shows how much land is used overseas to produce food for the UK. The teal bars suggest the direct emissions associated with the supply chain of each product, while the yellow bars reveal the carbon “chance expense”, suggesting the quantity of CO2 that might be sequestered in the land used to produce that food.

In order to resolve these competing interests, the report requires a nationwide land-use technique to best designate land to nature, carbon sequestration and farming.

Overall carbon expenses (kgCO2e) per kg of various foodstuff. The teal bars show the direct emissions connected with the supply chain of each product, while the yellow bars reveal the carbon “chance cost”, implying the quantity of CO2 that could be sequestered in the land utilized to produce that food. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

Nature-based services, such as peatland remediation and afforestation, are expected to play a major role in numerous nations and companies net-zero targets, but much of these require the repurposing of agricultural land.

The chart below shows that when the carbon sequestration “chance cost” (yellow bars) is contributed to the emissions of different food groups (teal bars), the carbon cost of lamb and goat meat in fact exceeds that of beef, due to the big amounts of land needed to graze those animals and their cravings for tree saplings.

” Globally, the biggest potential carbon benefit of consuming less meat would not actually be the reduction in emissions, however the opportunity to repurpose land so that it sequesters carbon.”.

Reducing meat intake would likewise help minimize the pressure on land resources, the report discovers. About 70% of the landmass of the UK is committed to farming, with feed and pastures for beef and lamb taking up the huge majority of that land.

The government has actually committed to producing an action to the strategy, including proposals for brand-new legislation, within the next 6 months..