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National Food Strategy

Volume 819: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will publish their response to the National Food Strategy.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my various interests in this field as stated in the register.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. The forthcoming government food strategy will set out the Government’s ambition and priorities for the food system, considering the evidence set out in Henry Dimbleby’s independent review and building on additional topics. We are actively collaborating across government to cover the entire food system, to consider the unforeseen challenges that the agri-food sector has faced in this last year since the independent review was published. We expect to publish the Government’s food strategy very shortly.

I thank the Minister, but I am disappointed that I did not get an answer as to the date, since it is now already two weeks since the agreement. I am glad that the Government agree that the food system is in urgent need of reform. There are many major risks to not acting. Our health is worsening, supply chains are fragile, and the climate and nature commitments cannot be met without more action on food. The NFS has created a rare moment of consensus across the board, which should be grasped by the Government. Do they agree that part of the food strategy White Paper will demand a commitment from the Government to follow through with a good food Bill which will set this stuff up as a framework for the future?

The food strategy is an attempt for the first time to draw together all different aspects of the food system. I am very admiring of the noble Baroness’s work, not least with the Food Foundation. I assure her that the Government will take any measures necessary, legislative or otherwise, to implement this very well thought-through piece of work. I regret that it was not published exactly within six months, but it will be published very shortly.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their work on the food strategy, and the noble Baroness and Henry Dimbleby on their work. Bearing in mind that we might be facing a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, will my noble friend update the House on what measures we are taking to increase our self-sufficiency in food and our general food security? What measures are the Government taking to tackle the immediate pig crisis that we face with the difficulty of manning abattoirs and their slaughterhouses?

The Government have gone to great lengths to ensure that the latter problem has been resolved. As things stand, we have imported enough people to help with the processing of pigmeat, although there are still problems. It is too early to assess the issue concerning Ukraine. Some 75% to 80% of our seasonal workers come from Ukraine. It is uncertain at this stage whether the current situation will have any effect on that, but we are watching it very closely and talking to other countries as well.

My Lords, will the Minister guarantee that in the context of the national food strategy, those companies—I am sure he knows which ones they are—that have sought to manipulate meat and chicken products in various markets are excluded from trying to do the same in the United Kingdom’s markets. They have been very heavily prosecuted in other countries. Nevertheless, will he ensure that they are not allowed the freedom to exploit, in some cases illegally, the market opportunities in the United Kingdom?

The food strategy sits within the wider intention of the Government, with cross-party support, to ensure that we have the most sustainable and highest standards in all areas of food production. That requires the corporate organisations such as the ones that the noble Lord recognises to understand that there is no safe place for them if they break those rules in this part of the global economy.

My Lords, will the Government’s response also include a land use strategy, which was recommended recently by your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee, in its report on nature-based solutions to climate change? Given the increasing pressure on land use, is it not important to recognise the pressure to grow more foods and fuels sustainably, and build houses and land for industry and infrastructure, alongside the need to set aside certain land for conservation of biodiversity? We need a land use strategy. Will the Government come forward with one?

This is a moment of almost revolutionary change in agriculture, not only in how we support and incentivise farmers but in how we produce food. What was so impressive about Henry Dimbleby’s work, and what will be reflected in the food strategy, is that we are looking at the entire food system—yes, the impact that our food production has on the environment but also the effect it has on people and diet, so the whole food chain.

It is this side. The national food strategy recognises that farmers need greater help to transition to more sustainable land use. Does the Minister understand the frustration of Minette Batters, who said at the NFU conference this week that rather than having a clear plan and vision for sustainable and productive farming, the Government are “repeatedly running” into short-term crises in the sector which they could have foreseen and pre-empted if there had been a proper food strategy backed up by the proper resources?

We are putting enormous resources into supporting farmers, incentivising them in a different but less prescriptive way than under the common agricultural policy. We are supporting an industry-wide attempt to ensure that we are eating better, healthier, more sustainable food. There will always be problems, but we have a remarkably resilient food supply system in this country which has ridden out some very difficult bumps in the road recently. We are not complacent. We are putting enormous resources, human and financial, into ensuring that we have a sustainable, long-term, well thought-through food system in this country.

My Lords, I apologise; I did not realise that it was the Opposition Front Bench speaking. The national food strategy is a fantastic piece of work, but it concerns me that the Government are pressing ahead with a ban on what they pejoratively call “junk food advertising”, which will damage our public service broadcasters, before they have published their comprehensive response to the national food strategy. Will the Minister put these proposals on hold until he comes forward with what will no doubt be an excellent and comprehensive strategy?

The Government have consulted widely on this and there is significant evidence that banning junk food advertising at certain times of the day on certain channels does have an effect on the younger elements of our society who are partial to junk food. I respectfully disagree with my noble friend. This is an opportunity to take a small step as part of a much bigger picture to protect people from unhealthy diets.

My Lords, I chaired the London Food Board, which produced the first London food strategy. In that, the biggest win for people and planet was to eat local food. This Government are not supporting our UK farmers but are buying food, which we can produce, from half way around the world. How is that helping our UK farmers?

Quite to the contrary, we want people to eat good-quality, sustainably produced food with high welfare standards. The intention is to enable farmers to produce that successfully in a global marketplace. Ultimately, it is the consumer who makes these choices. We want to ensure that we are giving farmers every support they need to continue producing the high-quality food that our consumers benefit from.

My Lords, Dimbleby’s strategy referred to the rising levels of food allergies, particularly among young children but also among adults. Given the increasing importance of support needed for those affected by food allergies, what discussions has the Minister had, or will he be having, with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, regarding the establishment of a national allergy lead?

I will write to the noble Baroness with details of that. The food strategy is a comprehensive piece of work which looks at a lot of health-related matters. It is across government, and the Department of Health has been very closely involved in putting it together. I cannot tell her exactly whether there will be reference to food allergies in it, but there is certainly a lot of work going on in government on that subject.

My Lords, last week’s “Countryfile”, which has great influence, was very disturbing. It indicated that we were not giving proper encouragement to our own sugar beet industry but bringing in cane sugar from thousands of miles away. This supports what was said by the splendid noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Is this the case? If it is, we have got it wrong.

It is the Government’s intention to sustain a viable sugar beet industry. That involves not just farmers producing sugar beet but the four factories that we have in this country continuing to do so. If one or more of them were to close, we would be reliant on sugar produced in less environmentally sustainable ways from much further away, and my noble friend is entirely right to point out that it would be at a much higher environmental cost as well.