'Devil in the detail' – Government's food plan met with mixed reaction

The Government's National Food Strategy has been met with mixed reaction, with some farmers warning "the devil is in the detail".

NFU president Minette Batters
NFU president Minette Batters

Plans to drive innovation and harness pioneering technology in farming have been set out as part of the strategy which aims to back farmers by helping to increase domestic production, spread jobs and grow the economy.

The Government said the plans – including incentives for industry and investment in research – will support farmers to harness this innovation to boost home-grown fruit and vegetable production, and help reduce reliance on overseas production.

While being pleased that the strategy recognises the importance of domestic food production, members of the agricultural industry say it is important that the Government delivers "detail and direction" to farmers and food producers.

Richard Yates, who farms near Bridgnorth, said: "It is a seismic shift in Government policy and it is pleasing to see the importance of the farming industry and the vital role it plays in the economy is being recognised.

"But often the devil is in the detail and with any farming policy, we need to drill down into the detail and how it impacts at farm level.

"As a farmer I am confident in doing my bit in feeding the nation, but the Ukraine crisis and rising energy, fuel and fertiliser costs mean a lot of farmers will take their foot off the accelerator, tighten their belts and not look to spend any additional money to stay in business, meaning they probably won't be as productive."

Under the plans, farmers are set to produce more home-grown food to help guard against future economic shocks.

One clear priority for ministers is to reduce the distance between farm and fork, with a vision for 50 per cent of public sector food spending to go on food produced locally or certified to higher standards.

NFU president Minette Batters said: “The National Food Strategy represents a clear milestone with the Government recognising the importance of domestic food production, maintaining our productive capacity and growing more food in this country, particularly at a time when the war in Ukraine has focused attention on the importance and fragility of our global food security.

“Food production will always be core to a nation’s resilience and I’m pleased Government has recognised this.

“Domestic food production and environmental delivery go hand-in-hand and we are proud that British farmers have an ambition to reach net zero by 2040, while still maintaining our current levels of food production.

“We know the public want to be eating more local, British food, and farmers are ready to play their part in producing high quality and climate-friendly food, all while protecting and enhancing our environment.

“We now need to see this strategy develop into clear delivery and investment to capitalise on the benefits food and farming delivers for the country, such as our world-leading standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”

Edward Garratt, NFU Shropshire county adviser, added: “While there is a lot of detail to work through this is a real positive and something the union has influenced.

“For our members, growing crops and rearing animals remains at the heart of their farm businesses, but sustainability remains key.

“We will now go through the document and speak with NFU farmer and grower members in due course as we work to help deliver this strategy.”

The proposals have been criticised for not including a tax on salt and sugar. And environmental groups have accused the Government of rowing back on green ambitions.

Restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, the architect of a landmark review of the food system, said the policy document was not detailed enough to be called a strategy.

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