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The Friday Digest: Meat consumption off the table for Labour

As the countdown to a UK general election continues, Labour dropped further hints this week about its approach to food policy should the party form the next government (as polls suggest). Shadow minister for food, fisheries and farming, Daniel Zeichner, told a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum on Thursday that the prospect of Labour asking people to reduce their meat consumption was off the table with the party having “no intention of directing people to eat less meat” nor any plans to introduce a meat tax. He noted however that “consumers are already making choices for themselves” and said “we absolutely understand that we’re going to need to think very hard about how we get the agricultural sector to net-zero over time”.

Zeichner criticised the lack of a coherent UK food policy and the government’s “cursory rejection” of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, stating that Labour planned to develop a dedicated food strategy once in power. He also said the government’s environmental land management scheme could be simplified and improved to get the right mix of environmental and nature benefits, and secure food production.

Zeichner spoke too of Labour’s desire to grow domestic food production, although this may be easier said than done. Research by the National Farmers Union (NFU) has found that yields of crops such as wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape are likely to be significantly reduced this year due to the persistent wet weather experienced by large parts of the UK. Farmers in key producing regions like Lincolnshire are struggling to get on to their fields to plant any crops with the cropped area of wheat down 15%, oilseed rape down 28% and winter barley down 22%.

“It is another example of how vulnerable British food producing businesses are and highlights the possibility of more crops being imported, potentially produced to standards that would be illegal here, all adding further to market volatility. That’s why domestic food production must be given the right policy framework and the priority it deserves,” said NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

The NFU has been throwing its weight behind a private members bill, brought forward by Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, which recently had its second reading in Parliament. The bill would introduce mandatory reporting on the proportion of British food supplied to the public sector and require contracting authorities to consider what proportion of the food originates from the UK when making procurement decisions. 

“We know there is huge support across the country for food served in the public sector to be British,” said NFU deputy president David Exwood. “Our own research shows 76% of the public want government to commit to sourcing at least half of all food for schools, prisons and hospitals from British farms.”

And the pressure on the government to act on food policy doesn’t end there; ministers have also faced renewed calls from food businesses to make reporting of food waste data mandatory. Over 30 businesses, including supermarkets, manufacturers and out of home businesses, have written to Defra secretary of state Steve Barclay urging the government to make food waste reporting compulsory in order to drive meaningful change in the sector. The letter comes after a period of flip-flopping on the issue. Last year, Defra scrapped plans to introduce mandatory food waste reporting under the leadership of Barclay’s predecessor Thérèse Coffey, despite widespread support for the policy among businesses. Barclay subsequently withdrew the decision just days after he took office and said the government would reconsider.

The letter was coordinated by resale platform Too Good To Go and the British Retail Consortium. “We’re delighted to see the strong level of industry support for the introduction of mandatory food waste reporting,” said Jamie Crummie, co-founder of Too Good To Go. “In 2024, there is no room for half-hearted measures or commitments a decade away.”

Also featuring in this week’s Footprint News weekly alert is a warning from a leading think tank that political parties lack a plan to decarbonise the agriculture sector; the launch of a new flat bottle wine from Aldi; and dire predictions from the Fairtrade Foundation over risks to banana production

  1. Anon Avatar

    This headline and bolding of the text is absolutely misleading and appears to be intended as ‘click bate’ to drive readers to this article. It communicates the exact OPPOSITE of what labour have communicated. This is extremely disappointing to see from FOOTPRINT.