5 Food Strategy
63. The Foresight Future of Food and Farming
report concluded that to feed a growing global population, the
same amount of land will have to produce more food 'sustainable
intensification'. It identified a number of tools available to
achieve this. Conventional plant breeding, improved agricultural
practices and biotechnology could be used to increase yields from
the same area of land while using the same inputs, such as fertilizer
and water. The Foresight study notes a potential for increased
yields of 6%-30% on the same amount of land, using these techniques.
Professor Godfray, from the Government's Foresight project, described
the concept to us:
We give a definition in the [Foresight] report and
it clearly means producing more food from the same amount of land.
Whereas in the past, simply increasing yield in terms of crops
or the amount of meat produced in terms of livestock has been
the be-all and end-all, we are now talking about the sustainable
intensification agenda trying to optimise a far more complex set
of objective functions, in particular, a marked increase in resource
efficiency, so that means using less water, less nitrogen, less
other inputs so that one is eating into natural capital to a lesser
degree. Secondly, it means producing more but reducing the footprint
of food production on the environment.
64. The Government's solution to food sustainability
in the UK is also 'sustainable intensification', as presented
by the Foresight report. It told us that "there are strong
environmental grounds for limiting any significant expansion of
agricultural land in the future".
The need to produce more from less is highlighted by the Government
in the 'Green Food Project', in the Defra Business Plan and in
the Natural Environment White Paper.
However, there are risks that come from following a path towards
intensification. As Professor Philip Lowe of the Rural Economies
and Land Use Programme explained any move towards intensification,
in the sense of increasing yields for a given area set area of
land, had resulted in the past in environmental decline:
We want to return to economic efficiency, but that
old economic efficiency of the immediate post-war period was very
ecologically inefficient. It used vast amounts of natural resources;
it was very oil dependent; it knackered the countryside where
it could. There is a sense of how do we return to economic efficiency
but not lose ecological benefits. To me now it is a pursuit of
two things, economic efficiency and what I would call ecological
efficiency, to make sure that the gains that we make in terms
of increased food production are not at the expense of the environment.
That is the critical thing. It is trying to get the food-producing
focus on the dual aims of economic efficiency and ecological efficiency.
65. A number of organisations were worried that
implicit in the term 'sustainable intensification' was a push
towards intensive forms of agriculture and a step away from small
scale mixed agriculture that in certain situations could be equally
efficient. Mark Driscoll from WWF believed that in UK uplands
there were already too many livestock and that reducing their
number should be part of delivering a more sustainable system.
He told us that:
At the end of the day, there will not be one system
that will resolve all [the] issues. Small-scale farmers are a
really important part of that for many reasons, but other agricultural
production systems also have a role to play. 
66. Andrew Kuyk from the Food and Drink Federation
told us that 'intensification' was an unfortunate choice of word.
Mark Driscoll explained that this was because:
[...] it conjures up all sorts of connotations, depending
on where you sit within the food supply chain, what type of farming
systems you use. The food system provides not only food but a
wide range of public goods, public services, cultural and landscape
benefits. Sustainable intensification has to include that key
range of public goods and services. It is not just about minimal
environmental impacts or trade-offs even it is about adding
value to the natural environment, to natural capital.
67. The overarching aim behind
the Government's work in improving the UK's food system is 'sustainable
intensification'. The Foresight report presented sustainable intensification
as the solution to the global food crisis. The challenge for the
Government is to define what this term means in practice, and
particularly for the UK. Sustainable intensification must be more
than simply increasing yields: The emphasise should be on 'sustainable'.
Policy must take account of social and environmental impacts of
the food system, including retaining space for small scale production
practices and local food networks (Part 3). But
to put that into practice needs a clear strategy from the Government,
as we discuss below.
A new food strategy
68. The previous Government's food policy was
set out in Food 2030, published in January 2010.
That cross-departmental strategy aimed to:
- use global natural resources
- enable the continuing provision of the benefits
and services that a healthy natural environment provides;
- promote high standards of animal health and welfare;
- protect food safety;
- make a significant contribution to rural communities;
- allow us to show global leadership on food sustainability.
69. It recognised that the UK food system is
made up of interactions between organisations and individuals
ranging beyond the immediate supply chain and that the system
is affected by polices in a number of different departments. The
current Government has no overarching strategy in place. Its 'Green
Food Project' will examine only part of the food system. It aims
to deliver environmental and intensification improvements, but
it risks ignoring the wider social and health implications of
the system. If these remain unaccounted for, food policy risks
becoming fragmented and lacking co-ordination, as demonstrated
by the policy to promote weekly waste collections. The breadth
of the food system means that potential policy conflicts are likely
to arise and not be recognised, unless formulated under a new
food strategy. The absence of a clear strategy also makes it more
difficult to identify policies which would bring benefits across
a wide front, which support people's health, their communities
and the environment.
70. The UN Rio+20 Earth Summit in June will consider
a document that will capture the agreed outcomes of the event,
currently set out in a 'zero draft'. That draft includes potentially
agreed text on food security:
We reaffirm the right to food and call upon all States
to prioritize sustainable intensification of food production through
increased investment in local food production, improved access
to local and global agri-food markets, and reduced waste throughout
the supply chain, with special attention to women, smallholders,
youth, and indigenous farmers. We are committed to ensuring proper
nutrition for our people.
We call for more transparent and open trading systems
and, where appropriate, practices that contribute to the stability
of food prices and domestic markets; ensure access to land, water
and other resources; and support social protection programmes.
We further support initiatives at all levels that
improve access to information, enhance interactions among farmers
and experts through education and extension services, and increase
the use of appropriate technologies for sustainable agriculture.
In the absence of a food strategy that encapsulates
Government policy on food, there is currently no clear view of
the Government's likely approach to the Rio negotiations.
71. The Government must use
the Green Food Project to provide a foundation for developing
a broader food strategy that takes into account the health, environmental,
social and economic consequences of the way that the food we eat
is produced, sold and disposed of. Such a strategy should explicitly
shape the way policy is to be co-ordinated across departments
to provide a sustainable food system. It must provide information
on the trade-offs that need to be examined when considering food
sustainability and give direction on the types of foods considered
sustainable. It must also provide an impetus to shift food policy
to deliver a more equitable food system so that healthy and sustainable
food is available to all.
72. A key theme of the Rio+20
Earth Summit will be sustainable food production. The Government
should review its food policy in the light of the Summit agenda,
and after the Summit it should build any commitments agreed into
that strategy. That review must ensure that UK food policy is
consistent with the global aspirations for delivering a sustainable
116 Government Office for Science, Foresight, The
Future of Food and Farming. Back
Q 117 Back
Ev 154 Back
http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/food/environment/; Defra, Natural
Environment White Paper, 2011; and Defra, Business Plan,
Q 10 Back
Q 12 Back
Q 53 Back
Q 10 Back
Defra, Food 2030, 2010. Back
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, The Future
We want-Zero draft of the outcome document 2011, paras 64-66.