Memorandum submitted by Natural England (SFS 63)



Executive Summary


Natural England believes:


· Food security and environmental security are both essential, they are often highly interdependent and should be addressed together, particularly given the challenge of climate change.


· Addressing the need for food security should be undertaken in a way which ensures natural resources are used sustainably and any negative impacts on the natural environment avoided or mitigated, both here and abroad. Protection of the terrestrial and marine environments will contribute to food security by maintaining the ecosystem services upon which we depend.


· The current problem of food insecurity is, globally, primarily one of unequal distribution and access to food, and, in the UK, of household food insecurity and of poor nutrition; rather than a lack of overall availability or insufficient production. Sustainable food production can contribute to food security by providing food of good nutritional value.


· In the long term, global food production is likely to need to increase. We should seek to avoid and mitigate the increase in global demand for food as far as possible through more sustainable consumption and diets and less waste in supply chains. These approaches could have significant health and environmental benefits.


· If, in future, food production in the UK and Europe needs to increase to provide people with healthy diets, there will need to be simultaneous improvements in environmental performance. In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy should aim to ensure both our food and environmental security.


· Retaining the capacity to produce food in the UK and Europe is important for our food security, including through support for sustainable food production, appropriate research and development, protection of fertile land whilst allowing for other required land use changes, and suitable skills and knowledge.


· Resilience in the food system will be stronger with a range of supply chains, including but not exclusively with healthy domestic agricultural and fisheries sectors, and we should encourage those with the lowest environmental impact. International trade policies relating to food and agricultural products should include the aim of the protection of the natural environment.


· There is an important role for local enterprises, citizens, and communities in ensuring food and environmental security, such as through involvement in allotments and community orchards, and these activities have multiple health benefits. Sufficient land needs to be made available to local communities to enable them to participate in sustainable food production.




1.0 Introduction


1.1 Natural England is a statutory body created in 2006 under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. Natural England's purpose, as outlined in the Act, is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development.


1.2 We believe food security and environmental security are both essential, they are often highly interdependent and should be addressed together, particularly given the challenge of climate change. Achieving farming and fishing that ensures food security and the protection of the natural environment is a major challenge for the 21st Century.


2.0 How robust is the current UK food system? What are its main strengths and weaknesses?


2.1 In our view, the current problems of food insecurity in the UK are concentrated at the household level and relate to dietary patterns and nutritional security, rather than an absolute shortage of food or chronic problems with supply. For example, obesity in England has trebled in 20 years; nearly a quarter of adults and about 10 per cent of children are obese today.[1] We recognise the need for mechanisms and initiatives to encourage healthy eating and support those most vulnerable to food insecurity in the UK.


2.2 On a national level, we believe we are currently adequately food secure in terms of sufficient quantities of food available. In the long term, however, we cannot guarantee such a secure food supply given a number of underlying factors such as climate change, population growth, and the depletion of oil. We therefore need to develop strategies to ensure the UK's food security whilst protecting and enhancing our natural environment.


3.0 How well placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by 2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable?


3.1 The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to double by 2050, to meet the demands of a rising world population.[2] 50% of this increase is accounted for by projected growth in population, with the other 50% due to different patterns of consumption. As the future is inherently uncertain, these projections are only of some value.


3.2 Notwithstanding these inherent uncertainties, we agree that in the long term global food production is likely to need to increase. In our view, as well as more sustainable food production, nations should seek to avoid and mitigate the increase in demand for food as far as possible, encouraging more sustainable consumption and less waste.


3.3 It is estimated that there are currently 850 million people in the world who are under nourished[3], but there are also estimated to be over 1 billion people who are overweight.[4] Reducing the overconsumption of food could help to mitigate the increase in the global demand for food and reduce the burden of diet related disease and ill health.


3.4 There are also strong arguments for reducing our current consumption of energy intensive foods with relatively high environmental impacts. This may include eating less meat from cereal-fed animals and favouring meat from grass or by-product fed animals reared as part of mixed farming systems or in areas where other forms of food production are more difficult.


3.5 Reducing waste in supply chains and households would also help to mitigate the increase in the global demand for food. The UK food industry produces 6.5 million tonnes of waste a year[5] and around a third of all food is wasted at household level, half of which is edible.[6]


3.6 The largest increase in demand for food is likely to be in developing countries, where there are more opportunities for increasing food production. Increasing food production in the UK to address global food insecurity concerns is unlikely to make a significant contribution to addressing the problem. Currently, the UK only produces approximately 0.97% of the world's cereal output.[7]


3.7 If, in future, food production in the UK needs to increase to provide people with healthy diets, there will need to be simultaneous improvements in environmental performance. We believe that we must work together to reduce environmental impacts and avoid damage to the natural environment whenever seeking to increase food production.


4.0 Question 3: In particular, what are the challenges the UK faces in relation to the following aspects of the supply side of the food system:

a. soil quality

b. water availability

c. the marine environment

d. the science base

e. the provision of training, etc.


4.1 Protection of the terrestrial and marine environments will contribute to food security by maintaining the ecosystem services upon which we depend. Measures intended to address food security should also be undertaken in a way which ensures natural resources are used sustainably and negative impacts on the natural environment are avoided or mitigated.




4.2 Soils are essential to produce our food and, when managed well, can increase fertility and yields. Soils support our diverse landscapes and play a vital role in maintaining the balance of gasses in the air, as well as helping to clean water. Soils also have a role in storing and releasing carbon, with consequences for climate change.


4.3 Poorly managed soils can increase flood risk and incur economic costs. An estimated 13 million tons of carbon are lost annually from UK soils.[8] There are many opportunities for improving and restoring the quality of soils in England which would support agricultural productivity, environmental protection, and the natural environment.




4.4 Water is vital for food production and our rivers, lakes, and wetlands are distinctive components of the English landscape. Over abstraction, drainage, and diffuse pollution from agriculture can all affect the quality of water and the water environment. Diffuse pollution from agriculture accounts for 60% of the nitrogen load in UK freshwater.[9] The sustainable use of water in agriculture is important, and will become increasingly so given the impacts of climate change.


Marine environment


4.5 Fishing and aquaculture are important industries and fish and seafood are important sources of nutrition. Globally, 16% of fish stocks are over exploited and 52% are fully exploited. In 2002, 50% of the UK catch (by value) came from stocks that were in borderline or unsustainable condition.[10] Protecting fish stocks and the marine environment will help to ensure our food security in the future.


Science, knowledge and technology


4.6 To ensure our food and environmental security, a strong science base is essential. In the UK and Europe, we need to facilitate research, development and extension of new farming practices, designs and technologies that can produce food with a lower impact on the environment.


4.7 In England there are opportunities to improve the productivity and environmental performance of conventional food production systems. These include improved husbandry techniques, better timing and accuracy of input applications, and the development of crop varieties and management systems.


4.8 There are also opportunities to develop our knowledge of smaller scale agricultural systems based upon ecological principles. Intercropping, agroforestry and undersowing can increase the output of food in a given area of land.[11]


Training, education and skills


4.9 Developing highly skilled, environmentally aware farmers, fishermen and food producers is important for food security. Mechanisms to enable the dissemination of knowledge and good practice are therefore important. We welcome initiatives in this area, such as Lantra's Diploma in Environment and Land-based Studies and the Fresh Start schemes.


Land use


4.10 To help retain a productive capacity for food, we need to protect the capacity for land to be used for agriculture and food production, whilst valuing the current environmental services it provides and allowing for necessary change, including for example the creation of habitats and coastal change.


4.11 As pressure on land for all uses grows, it will be necessary to take a strategic view on the multiple benefits to be provided by land and to consider how to integrate food and non-food production with landscape and biodiversity objectives, as well as strategies for responding to climate change. Account should be taken of the ease of reversibility and permanency of any changes in land use.


Resilience, energy and climate change


4.12 A range of supply chains will strengthen resilience in the food system, as it enables greater flexibility and adaptability when responding to external shocks. As such, we should seek to maintain a mix of supply chains, whilst particularly encouraging those with the lowest environmental impact. We should also expect a diversity within the food processing, manufacturing, and retail sectors.


4.13 The reliance of agriculture and the food system on fossil fuels presents a major challenge to ensuring food security. It is estimated that 95% of all food production is 'oil dependant' with the manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser the single largest indirect use of fossil fuels in agriculture.[12] Agriculture and associated food chains need to become less reliant on exhaustible energy resources.


4.14 Climate change is already adversely affecting food security in the world through droughts, flooding, and sea level rises. Agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions: In the UK, GHGs from agriculture account for 7% of the UK's emissions.[13] The whole food chain needs to reduce its emissions and adapt to climate change, particularly to water scarcity. Farmers and land managers have a key role to play as 'carbon managers'.




4.15 Trade at all levels can be beneficial to ensuring food security as it provides access to a wider range of foods and allows wider markets for our products. Trade liberalisation policies however have encouraged specialisation and the expansion of food production, resulting in some environmental problems. Conversely, some traditional production systems have become uncompetitive, leading to land abandonment and biodiversity loss.


4.16 These negative impacts of trade liberalisation can partly be mitigated in the UK and the EU through policy instruments. It is important, therefore, that trade policies encourage greater sustainability in food production and do not constrain the legitimate use of policy measures to protect and enhance the natural environment.


4.17 Elsewhere in the world similar measures, regulations and standards may not be in place or sufficiently adequate, leading to the possible 'exporting' of environmental damage. International environmental food production standards, agreed and applied by all governments, are therefore now required.


Farming and domestic food production


4.18 Farmers are custodians of some 18 million hectares of land in the UK, the greater part of which is managed to produce food.[14] In England, farming has made progress in becoming more environmentally responsible in recent years, with over 60% of English farmers signing up to agri-environment schemes. Some technical and economic drivers in farming, however, have encouraged activities which have resulted in, and continue to result in, avoidable environmental impacts.


4.19 In terms of food security, domestic food production is important as it provides some of the key components in a range of supply chains, thereby lowering risk and increasing resilience in the food system to shocks and disruptions. However, policy mechanisms (such as subsidies) designed to increase domestic production beyond that which can be supported by the market, have in the past lead to agricultural intensification production and negative consequences for the natural environment.


4.20 Public support should be given in return for public goods, such as environmental benefits. Supporting the wider adoption of farming and food systems with high environmental value and lower environmental impacts, for example, systems under Environmental Stewardship's Higher Level Scheme, could help to retain a level of domestic production and productive capacity, whilst also delivering crucial environmental benefits.


Landscapes, habitats and biodiversity


4.21 The landscapes of England are formed in large part through the interaction of food production over millennia with the natural attributes, not least geology and soils, of individual localities. They are part of our identity, culture and history and they provide a range of recreational and educational opportunities.


4.22 The increasing specialisation and intensification of agriculture, however, has been a factor in eroding those landscape features and qualities that had previously heightened the distinctiveness of different localities.[15] In 40% of National Character Areas, the past losses of landscape character either showed no sign of reversal or change is continuing to adversely transform character.[16]


4.23 As well as landscapes, the intensification of food production has also had an impact on habitats and biodiversity. For example, 97% of lowland unimproved grassland was lost between 1930 and 1984 in England and Wales, and the number of specialist bird species in the Farmland Birds index continues to decline.[17]


4.24 Biodiversity is often disrupted by, or is in competition with agricultural production. For example, if almost all the available (solar) energy is sequestered to a crop there is little left for biodiversity, unless it feeds on the crop.[18] But, it is possible for biodiversity to have an agronomic value by, for example, being part of an ecosystem that suppresses pest and disease populations to below yield damaging levels.


4.25 Improving the environmental performance of agriculture and increasing food production in England is potentially possible but will present challenges, particularly for protecting and enhancing England's wildlife and landscapes.



5.0 What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the food system in the UK, in terms of consumer taste and habits, and what will be their main effect? What use could be made of local food networks?


5.1 As we described above, obesity in England has trebled in 20 years[19] and large increases in obesity are predicated in the years ahead, with 60% of people obese by 2050.[20] In the UK, if people followed World Health Organisation's guidelines for a healthy diet we would eat:

· 15% less meat and milk;

· 75% less cheese;

· 20% less fats;

· 50% more fresh fruit and vegetables. [21]


5.2 These changes in diets could have both positive and negative environmental impacts. For example, fewer numbers of livestock in the dairy and meat sectors may reduce GHG emissions but could have negative impacts on landscape character and biodiversity.[22]


5.3 According to surveys, half of consumers try to buy British when shopping for meat,[23] 21 per cent look for organic food,[24] and 59 per cent are interested in buying local food.[25] Most purchasing decisions, however, are still based upon self-benefit (e.g. value for money), and an interest in food and food issues does not always affect purchasing behaviour.[26]


5.4 To enable sustainable food consumption, the decisions made by those determining the choices available to consumers are important. Similarly, education can enable understanding of the origin and production methods of food, and ways to reduce its environmental impact. In 2007, a survey found that 35% of adults did not know that porridge oats come from British farms.[27]


5.5 Food labels need to inform consumers of the provenance and production methods of food, and leave no ambiguity about the origin and sustainability of food. A majority of consumers seek information from labels when making food purchase choices[28] but labels are currently more likely to confuse and mislead consumers than inform them.[29]


5.6 Local and regional food economies can be important components in a range of supply chains required for food security. Less than 1% of food sold in supermarkets is currently 'local'.[30] There is therefore potential for commercial local and regional food production and supply to play an enhanced role in ensuring the UK's food security.


5.7 Allotments and other green infrastructure are vitally important for informal food production and as places for wildlife. 'Growing your own' can increase people's access to fresh fruit and vegetables,[31] and allows physical exercise and contact with the natural environment.[32] Sufficient land needs to be made available to local communities to enable them to participate in sustainable food production.



6.0 What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the UK food system are maintained and in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified? What leadership and assistance should Defra provide to the food industry?


6.1 Farmers, fishermen, food businesses, consumers, civil society and Government have a shared responsibility for encouraging sustainability in food production and consumption. Government needs to lead in ensuring the nation's food security, supported by the food industry and farming sector who share an interest in secure food supplies.


6.2 We welcome many of the actions which the UK Government is taking to address food and environmental security issues. As a public body ourselves, we are investing in the natural environment in England. This will contribute to ensuring food security by protecting the genetic diversity and ecosystems services which are required for food production, as well as delivering a range of other public benefits.



7.0 How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the regulatory framework for the food supply chain? Is there a coherent cross-Government food strategy?


7.1 The Cabinet Office's Food Matters report published in 2008 provides a first step in developing an integrated food policy across government. We welcome many of the commitments made in the report including the 'Healthier Food Mark' and 'Vision for a Sustainable Food System'.


7.2 Natural England's work of relevance to this area includes our policy on CAP reform, Futures Scenarios, our delivery of the Environmental Stewardship scheme and our work to achieve more sustainable use of the Marine environment. We are currently developing our policy on Food Security and the Environment, and will be consulting with a wide range of stakeholders in the near future.


8.0 What criteria should Defra use to monitor how well the UK is doing in responding to the challenge of doubling global food production by 2050 while ensuring that such production is sustainable?


8.1 We note that Defra are developing a set of indicators in which to measure food security. In our response to Defra's discussion document, Ensuring the UK's food security in the 21st Century, we recommended that the set of indicators includes ones for environmental security. A set of indicators for monitoring environmental security could include:

· ecological integrity and services of land used for food production in UK;

· greenhouse gas emissions from farming and food system (from UK consumption);

· reduction in diffuse pollution by agriculture in UK;

· number and diversity of farmland birds and bees in UK;

· agricultural landscape quality and character in UK;

· stocks of fish and quality of marine environment in UK and international waters; and

· resource efficiency indicators (e.g. water, oil, waste).


8.2 We also recommended that any set of indicators includes a measure of the proportions of food produced in different spatial contexts (local, national, etc.), the diversity within primary production in the UK, such as number of mixed farms in the lowlands, and the UK's 'productive capacity' on a nutritional basis.


9.0 Conclusions and recommendations


9.1 By seeking a healthy and adaptable farming and food economy in the UK and Europe, and by protecting and enhancing a healthy and resilient natural environment, we will be able to respond positively to the challenge of food security in the future. In summary, the priorities for ensuring food and environmental security, should include:


9.2 Sustainable food production and supply

· mechanisms to reward farmers for the delivery of public goods (including the conservation of landscapes and biodiversity), where the market cannot do this;

· the greater use of market instruments for internalising external costs and benefits;

· investment with the aim of improving yields, reducing environmental impacts, and improving competitiveness;

· maintaining a range of adaptable supply chains, including strong local and regional food chains, and particularly encouraging those with the lowest environmental impact and least reliance on fossil fuels;

· reducing wastes in agriculture, food chains and households and improving resource efficiency in other areas such as water use; and

· provision of land and support for local community initiatives which encourage and allow greater citizen participation in sustainable food production, such as allotments.


9.3 Productive capacity in UK and Europe

· education and training aimed at ensuring a future supply of skilled and environmentally aware farmers, fishermen and food producers and support for mechanisms to enable the dissemination of knowledge and good practice;

· investing in research and development and extension of farming practices, techniques, designs and technologies that can facilitate productive and sustainable agricultural systems with a low risk to the natural environment;

· protection of the marine environment and fisheries, in order to ensure a sustainable supply of fish and other seafood in the future; and

· protection of fertile land and managing the extent to which farmland can be permanently converted to other uses, whilst allowing for the creation of new habitats, coastal change, and rural development.


9.4 Trade and standards

· development of minimum mandatory international environmental standards for food and agricultural commodities in trade, and allowance for countries to retain controls over their food systems for social and environmental reasons when necessary; and

· policy measures for managing existing standards and encouraging appropriate voluntary environmental standards for food.


9.5 Sustainable consumption

· encouraging more sustainable consumption patterns and diets, such as reducing the amount of grain-fed meat consumed;

· retailers, caterers and manufacturers applying corporate social responsibility principles to their sourcing policies, food chain standards, and products offered;

· accurate, honest and effective labelling to increase awareness of the production methods and origin of food to allow more sustainable food choices;

· education of citizens from a young age about food and the environment so that people can make sustainable and healthy food choices throughout their lives; and

· public procurement of food and catering to support and act as an exemplar for more sustainable food production and consumption.



January 2009

[1] Department of Health, Foresight Tackling Obesities: Future Choice, DH, 2007

[2] FAO, World Agriculture towards 2030/2050, FAO, June 2006

[3] FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2006

[4] World Health Organisation, Chronic Disease Information sheet: Obesity, WHO, 2003

[5] Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, Food: Analysis of the issues, March 2008

[6] Waste and Resources Action Plan, Understanding Food Waste, WRAP, 2007

[7] FAO, 2004

[8] Bellamy J, UK Losses of Soil Carbon: due to climate change?, Cranfield University, 2007

[9] Defra, Observatory Programme Indicator for Nitrate and Phosphate levels in water, Defra, 2007

[10] Prime Ministers Strategy Unit, Net Benefits, stocks under quota, PMSU, 2004

[11] Rämert B, Lennartsson M, and Davies G, The use of mixed species cropping to manage pests and diseases - theory and practice, 2002

[12] Defra, Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy - indicator data sheet, Source: ADAS, 2006

[13] Defra,

[14] Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food, Defra, 2003

[15] Central Science Laboratory, Oxford Archaeology, and the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, 2002. The Environmental Effects of Common Agricultural Policy Direct Aids to Farmers. Research report for Defra. In Defra, 2002, Analysis of the Environmental Effects of Common Agricultural Policy Direct Aids. Report by the United Kingdom in compliance with Article 2.1(a) of Commission regulation (EC) No 963/2001

[16] State of the Natural Environment report, Natural England, 2008

[17] Natural England, State of the Natural Environment report, Natural England, 2008

[18] Prof. Chris Pollock, 'Law of competition for sunlight', presentation to the 'Land of plenty' conference, May 2008

[19] Department of Health , Foresight Tackling Obesities: Future Choice, DH, 2007

[20] Department of Health, 2007 op cit

[21] Arnoult M, 'Food consumption changes in the UK under compliance with dietary guidelines', as part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) project 'Implications of a nutrition driven food policy for land use and the rural environment', led by Reading University.

[22] Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) project 'Implications of a nutrition driven food policy for land use and the rural environment', led by Reading University.

[23] Mintel, Attitudes Towards Buying Local Produce, Mintel, 2003:

[24] Mintel, Consumer Trends, Mintel, Nov 2008.

[25] Institute of Grocery Distribution, Local sourcing, IGD, 2002

[26] Consumer Attitudes to 'Eat the View', Countryside Agency 2003

[27] NFU/BBC Survey, 2004

[28] MAFF, Consumers Attitudes to Food Labelling, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, 2000

[29] National Consumer Council, Bambozzled, Baffled, and bombarded, NCC, 2003

[30] New Economics Foundation 2006. 'Local' defined as produced no more than 30 miles away from outlet in rural areas (up to 70 miles for cities), or within county (+10 from border) or National Character Area (+ 10 miles from border).

[31] See Bakkere N et all, Growing Cities, Growing Food: Urban Agriculture on the Policy Agenda, Deutsche Stiffung fur International Entwicklung, April 2000, and Viljoen A et al, Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities, Elsevier, 2005

[32] See Garnet T, Growing Food in Cities: the benefits of urban agriculture, Sustain, 1999, and United Nations Development Programme, Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities, UNDP, 1998