UK food security threatened by Government’s lack of support, says IPPR

UK food security threatened by Government’s lack of support, says IPPR

According to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the Government’s failure to meaningfully address the climate and nature crises and support farmers risks the UK being unable to produce enough of its own food.

The report says a “significant shift” is needed to ensure the UK’s food security.

The IPPR report found that issues to do with climate are having a direct impact on farmers and food production in the UK. Livestock are increasingly exposed to heat stress, growing seasons are changing, pests and diseases are living longer in warmer winters, droughts are impacting crop growth and flooding is affecting soil runoff, erosion and harvesting.

This comes as record temperatures in the UK last year caused widespread damage to crops, causing significant economic loss to the farming industry, and posing risk to food security.

The IPPR analysis also argued that:

  • Trade deals struck since Brexit are undercutting British farmers and climate goals, while effectively exporting the UK’s carbon and ecological footprint elsewhere in the world
  • The UK’s food system is “too wasteful”, is skewed towards highly processed food and is “environmentally damaging”
  • Food poverty is an increasing problem with lower-income households disproportionately affected by food price rises and less able to afford a good diet.

The use of land in the UK needs to change, said the report, but responsibility for the transition to climate and nature-friendly farming cannot be left to farmers alone. It said: “They are already grappling with a system that does not fairly reward them for their produce.”

The report called for a long-term vision for the future of land and agriculture, which must reflect the views of those who work in farming as well as consumers.

Its findings were informed by several community panels – convened by IPPR in Somerset, Cumbria and Kent – on how to tackle the climate and nature ‘crises’ in a way that is fair to farmers, farm workers and the public.

Government responsibility

The panels requested the Government take a greater leadership role within the food system, including by providing a long-term funding settlement to support the changes needed. They also urged greater promotion of local food, and steps to cut out unnecessary transport, processing and packaging.

The report said a ‘significant shift’ is needed to ensure the UK’s food security and also meet net zero targets. This must involve:

  • Providing £2.4 billion a year for the next decade for farm support in England to help farmers deliver better carbon and wildlife outcomes
  • Strengthening trade deals so that food imports are produced to the same standards as domestic produce – including environmental safeguards, animal welfare and food safety standards, and workers’ rights
  • Creating food partnerships in local areas to increase the market for nutritious, nature and climate-friendly food.

‘Entrenching’ the food system

Measures such as these can ensure the UK meets its legally binding climate targets, while ensuring food security for generations to come.

Lesley Rankin, co-author of the report and researcher at IPPR, said: “The climate and nature crisis poses one of the greatest risks to the UK’s domestic food production, and the UK Government has consistently failed to treat this threat with the urgency it deserves.

“If we are serious about ensuring food security and leaving our environment in a better state than we found it for generations to come, it is crucial we act immediately and involve farmers and communities every step of the way.

“The evidence is crystal clear: protecting our planet, boosting farmers’ livelihoods and food security go hand-in-hand. Now it’s on the Government to act to put us on a path that provides a better life for us all.”

Luke Murphy, IPPR

Luke Murphy, co-author of the report and head of the Fair Transition Unit at IPPR, said: “The lack of a Government strategy for our food and farming sector has serious consequences.

“It’s undermining our ability to produce food domestically, making farmers’ lives harder, and entrenching a food system that is wasteful, bad for our health, and damaging to the environment.

“The Government must provide long-term financial support for the transition, and strengthen trade policy to guarantee environmental and worker standards. It must protect British farmers from being undercut by food produced to lower standards abroad.”

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