Today, Tuesday, 16th May, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be joined by voices from across the food and farming industries for the UK’s Farm to Fork Summit (also referred to as the ‘Food Summit’). The event is intended to address some of the agriculture sector’s most urgent challenges – from food security to supply chain resilience and inflation.
The Soil Association argues that such a critical discussion should involve a wider range of stakeholders, in order to represent the complex interconnections between the climate, nature and public health crises, and how these affect our food systems. It also states that these issues are unlikely to be resolved without a cohesive, joined-up approach to food and farming policy, which the government seems reluctant to implement.
Soil Association Head of Farming Policy, Gareth Morgan said:
“The UK Farm to Fork Summit might just provide an opportunity to secure a brighter future for farming in the UK, though it’s ironic that it comes just two weeks after Defra backtracked on their pledge to produce a horticulture strategy. The government has belatedly been forced by events to the dining table but the guest list seems to be lacking a crucial range of stakeholders including citizens, environmental and health NGOs to reflect the complexity of the challenge not just the mighty corporates of the food industry.
“The clock is ticking on the climate and nature crises, and many farmers and households are struggling in the face of rising costs. Urgent action is needed to join the dots between these challenges. We urge participants of the Food Summit to be bold in their thinking – reinstating the commitment to a horticulture strategy would be a good place to start.
“The empty shelves of the last few months could have been avoided if we had a more robust food and farming system, greater equity in supply chains, and a cohesive vision and strategy from government. The decision to abandon development of a strategic approach to increasing UK fruit and vegetable production shows worrying signs of complacency about our food security.
“There is a great deal at stake. We need to simultaneously accelerate progress towards Net Zero farming while acting to protect nature, and ensure producers receive a fair income. This will require government investment in more sustainable farming, and a commitment to scaling up organic and agroecology across most of the UK.
“There are huge benefits to be gained from such a transition – we can reduce farmer’s reliance on costly fossil fuel-based fertilizers, providing a more resilient farming sector, while nature’s recovery.
“The government should commit to delivering joined-up policy that helps our farmers and growers, to increase investment in sustainable farming and regenerative forestry, and more trees on farms through agroforestry.
“We also need cross-party acceptance that government has a role to play in shifting diets onto a more sustainable footing as highlighted in the National Food Strategy commissioned by the Government from Henry Dimbleby. This means less industrial meat and dairy, less ultra-processed foods, and more healthy plants foods and organic or pasture-fed meat.
“Importantly, this summit should become a regular event open to a broad range of interests and experts and the government must recognise that now, more than ever, food security and resilience must start with genuine support for UK farmers and growers.”