The National Farmers Union said the government had ‘stripped to the bone’ proposals for the review of England’s food system ahead of the planned release of a new food strategy on Monday.
A leaked draft food strategy had previously been branded ‘half-baked’ and ‘flatter than a pancake’ by campaigners, particularly concerned by the apparent rejection of a tax proposal on sugar and salt.
Ministers have been accused of concocting a plan ‘bordering on the absurd’, with the document suggesting they will avoid key recommendations from a major food system review by Leon restaurant co-founder Henry Dimbleby .
National Farmers Union President Minette Batters told The Observer she met the Prime Minister on Friday and told him farmers were furious at post-Brexit policies which they said put them at a disadvantage compared to foreign producers.
She said they included farmers from Tiverton and Honiton, where a major by-election is scheduled for June 23.
“We want to eat more British and more local food, but again I’m just asking how,” she told the newspaper.
“It’s great to have words, but it has to have a really meaningful meaning and we don’t see that in this document yet.”
In the previous review, campaigners also denounced elements of the plan “incentivizing” farmers to produce more meat.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove announced in 2019 that Mr Dimbleby was to lead a review of England’s food system to ensure it is “safe, healthy and affordable” for all.
The review also aimed to determine how the food system could help restore and improve the natural environment, build a resilient and sustainable agricultural sector, and contribute to urban and rural economies.
In his final report, published in 2021, Mr Dimbleby called for a sugar and salt reformulation tax as a key part of efforts to transform the country’s diet.
This appears to have been snubbed by ministers in the leaked draft.
The document, published in full by The Guardian on Friday, says “individual responsibility and choice” is important when it comes to healthy eating, and industry “has a role to play as well”.
He said the government had a “crucial role to play in making targeted regulatory interventions to support change”.
But there was no promise of a new £3/kg tax on sugar and £6/kg on salt sold for use in processed foods or in restaurants and catering businesses, such as the recommended Mr. Dimbleby.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said the leaked document showed “quite clearly” that the government was “in the pocket of the food industry” and had “no desire to bite the hand that feeds it”.
In his report, Mr Dimbleby also called on ministers to ensure that the budget for payments to farmers to deliver environmental benefits – such as nature restoration, flood prevention and soil improvement – is secured. until at least 2029.
But that appears to have been overlooked in the draft white paper, with the government instead repeating the commitment to maintain funding levels during the current legislature.
Labor slammed the leaked document as ‘nothing more than a vague statement of intentions’.
Ministers appear to be moving forward with some of Mr Dimbleby’s proposals, including consulting on mandatory food waste reporting for businesses of a certain size.
The government has also agreed to pilot a Community Eatwell scheme, as announced in the Leveling Up white paper, helping low-income people improve their diets.
The document says ministers will ‘support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins’, after the review urged the government to ‘incentivize’ consumers to change their eating habits.
But he suggested that sustainable sources of protein should not “displace traditional sectors”.
The newspaper says the government will issue a call for evidence to better understand the challenges of reducing methane emissions from farm animals such as cattle.
In his report, Mr. Dimbleby had set a goal of reducing meat consumption by 30% over 10 years.
Louisa Casson, head of food and forestry at Greenpeace UK, accused ministers of apparently ‘spurring’ UK farmers into producing more meat.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had not commented on the leaked documents, but a spokesperson added: “We will present the content of our ambitious new food strategy in due course. desired”.