Government urged to support shift to healthier diets through farming reforms

The Nature Friendly Farming Network says unhealthy diets are contributing to the nature and climate emergency in the UK.

Cauliflowers are harvested by workers at TH Clements vegetable growers near Holbeach in Lincolnshire. File photo.
Cauliflowers are harvested by workers at TH Clements vegetable growers near Holbeach in Lincolnshire. File photo. (Joe Giddens/PA)

A farmer-led group is urging the next government to support a shift towards healthier diets as part of wider reforms proposed to ensure a sustainable future for food production.

The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) says a national diet high in salt, trans fatty acids, processed meats and sugar is contributing to the nature and climate emergency in the UK.

Ahead of the general election later this year, the organisation said it has not seen a party manifesto that meets its goals of creating a food system that feeds people well, pays farmers fairly and protects biodiversity.

Recent months have seen UK and European agriculture plunged into turmoil as farmers protest against “unfair” trading practices and increased environmental measures while they face inflationary pressures and extreme weather.

British farmers joined a protest in Westminster on Monday that saw more than 100 tractors roll past the Houses of Parliament, warning that “substandard imports and dishonest labelling” are threatening food security.

The NFFN is also calling for a fairer market for farmers and ambitious financial support packages that can help businesses and people through the green agricultural transition.

Its policy road map, released on Thursday, says: “Supporting a shift to more sustainable, healthier diets can help tackle much of the burden of dietary-related ill health, while supporting changes in farming and land use that are critical in securing net zero and nature’s recovery.”

The organisation recommends that the next government takes a new approach to public procurement that supports increased production and consumption of nature-friendly food as well as introducing food labelling for environmental and animal welfare on all products.

As part of a seven-point policy plan, the NFFN called on politicians to build a strategy that supports the transition away from high intensity, low margin and low welfare industrial livestock production and consumption.

Chief executive Martin Lines said: “The next UK parliament will preside over a critical time for farming.

“The stakes at this general election are very high and we need politicians to step up and start delivering for food, farming and nature.”

He added: “We need a viable, long-term vision that enables farm businesses to remain profitable and produce high-quality, healthy food in ways that also meet our country’s goals for climate mitigation and nature’s recovery.”

It comes after 2023 saw the hottest June on record followed by the wettest October of the 21st century and a wet winter which caused widespread flooding.

The organisation said recent extreme weather events in the UK have increased its focus on making British farms more resilient in the face of climate change.

A source close to Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Rishi Sunak and this Conservative government have a plan for backing our farmers, who are vital to keeping this country fed.

“We’ve maintained the £2.4 billion annual farming budget throughout this Parliament, supporting farmers to produce food profitably and sustainably while also protecting nature.

“The alternative is no plan under Keir Starmer and Labour, who would take our rural communities and countryside back to square one.”

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Steve Reed said: “The Conservatives have undermined both British farming and nature itself.

“They put up trade barriers that blocked British food exports, let energy bills soar out of control leading to thousands of farmers going bust, and have left the country as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

“Labour will support farmers in the transition to more sustainable farming.

“We will ensure that government schemes support both nature and food production, and use the power of public procurement to buy more food for hospitals and prisons that is produced locally and sustainably, directly helping farmers, and promoting sustainable farming.”