Foodservice Footprint 10-Downing-St-scaled The Friday Digest: Delight and despondency at food summit Features  news-story-top news-email-top

The Friday Digest: Delight and despondency at food summit

We begin this week’s whistle-stop tour of the news at 10 Downing Street (not literally….we weren’t invited to the latest farm to fork summit) where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out the state of the UK’s food security and announced a range of measures to support farmers and grow the food and farming sector.

Sunak had faced criticism following last year’s inaugural summit for his failure to deliver a previously promised strategy for the horticulture sector and so it was notable that a new blueprint for growing the UK fruit and vegetable sector formed the centrepiece of his promise to producers. The plan involves ensuring the sector has access to affordable and sustainable energy and water, reviewing regulation to make it easier and quicker to build glasshouses, and providing investment to support innovation in the sector including up to £10m to help English orchard growers access equipment, technology and infrastructure. Growers’ organisation British Apples and Pears declared itself “delighted with the pledges” while the National Farmers Union welcomed measures to boost the production of British fruit and vegetables.

Elsewhere, there was a commitment to deliver regulations to improve fairness in the fresh produce and egg sectors, following the adoption of new rules for the dairy sector, and financial support for embattled farmers affected by persistent wet weather.

Although individual measures announced at the summit were largely well received, the positivity was tempered by a feeling that it was a case of too little too late. “The reality is that some farmers and growers believe they may not survive long enough to benefit from today’s announcements,” said NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

The government has also published a new UK food security index designed to complement (rather than replace) its three-yearly UK food security report (UKFSR), a second version of which is due to be published later this year. Based on key indicators selected from the wider set used for the UKFSR due to their ability to capture shorter-term trends, the index assessed UK food security as “broadly stable”, although it cautioned that this should be seen in the context of “longer-term risk from climate change”.

Farmers battling against record levels of rainfall and delayed plantings this spring may question the “longer-term” nature of climate change risk. Indeed, some environmental campaigners were left frustrated that they were unable to make the case for more urgent climate action at the summit. “One year on from the government’s first farm to fork summit, the droughts and flooded fields have laid bare the risks of climate change to food security,” said Alec Taylor, head of policy (production), at WWF. “It is increasingly clear that the costs of not acting will be much higher than the costs of acting. In that regard, the summit would surely have benefited from the specialist knowledge of environmental organisations who have not received an invite yet again.”

Business leaders, by contrast, have been invited to return to Whitehall to discuss measures to tackle the climate crisis with the government on an ongoing basis. The Grocer reported that a new resilience group is being set up by Defra and the Food and Drink Sector Council through which supermarket leaders, major suppliers and figures from agriculture and hospitality will advise ministers and officials on possible interventions to help businesses tackle some of the barriers they face in adapting to climate change.

The continued lack of an overarching food strategy is a bugbear for many thought leaders both within and outside of the food industry. That was the subtext behind a joint statement from a group of food businesses, farmer organisations, civil society, and membership groups who are urging the next government to prioritise an ambitious food and farming strategy within its first 100 days of taking office. Coordinated by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the Hope Farm statement has been a year in the making and sees the bosses of businesses including Bidfood, Nestle and Danone join with organisations including the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and Soil Association in calling on politicians to introduce new legally binding food system targets and a joined-up suite of policies to improve the public’s health, boost farm resilience, and protect nature and the environment. 

Other stories featured in this week’s Footprint news are WRI’s new foodservice playbook for supporting low-carbon food choices; warnings that new regulations on antibiotic use don’t go far enough; and research into the wide use of child-appealing packaging for unhealthy food products.