Civil society unites to call for ambitious action on food and farming

A group of food and farming leaders has unveiled the ‘Hope Farm Statement,’ urging the next government to prioritise an ambitious food and farming strategy within its first 100 days including new legally binding targets for government and coherent legislation to reform the food system to improve the public’s health, boost farm resilience, and protect nature and the environment. There is a need for courageous leadership, strategically aligned priorities and supportive regulation.

The statement backs calls from citizens participating in the UK-wide Food Conversation, who are clear in their call for governments and businesses to act for fairer, greener, healthier food and farming. It comes ahead of the government’s Farm to Fork summit, which will bring to the fore debates on how food security is envisaged, addressed, and monitored.

The group endorsed a statement crafted after a year of collaborative meetings convened by Paul Polman, former CEO Unilever. Signatories comprise CEOs of food businesses, farmer organisations, civil society and membership groups

The symptoms of a food system out of control are visible across the country with detrimental consequences for citizens, farmers, the NHS, nature, and the environment:

  • Diet-related ill-health has a significant impact on the economy and public services. Excess weight costs the UK approximately £98 billion every year in direct NHS costs, lost workforce productivity and reduced life expectancy. Type 2 diabetes costs the NHS around £12bn a year, and almost 1 in 4 children in the UK are overweight by the end of primary school. The UK has the highest obesity rate in all Western Europe.
  • The consequence of decades of harmful agricultural practices and intensive food production means the UK’s biodiversity is critically low, ranking at the bottom of G7 countries, and one in six wildlife species are at risk of extinction in Britain.
  • Following the wettest spring on record, farmers are facing an increasingly challenging time. 65% of farmers now predict either decline or bankruptcy, which poses challenges for food security and the rural economy. Immediate support is crucial for farmers facing volatile prices, changes in public support systems, and the impacts of climate change.
  • Policymakers are not yet prioritising action to curb the crisis in our food system. This is despite overwhelming evidence in independent reviews like the National Food Strategy, and attempts by governments which have often relied on promoting voluntarism amongst the private sector.

Paul Polman, global advocate for sustainable business and former CEO of Unilever said, “I cannot remember a time when forward-thinking food companies, farmers and citizens were so willing to work together to fix our dysfunctional food and farming system. With one voice, this growing list of organisations and businesses is asking the government to be bold, and each committing to playing their part. Food is a health issue, a climate and nature issue, a cost-of-living issue, an economic growth issue, and all this makes it an election issue. The Hope Farm Statement is an unprecedented offer of partnership to the next incumbent of Number 10 from key players from across the UK food system. Any political party which can’t see the need and opportunity is, bluntly, not fit to lead.”

Sue Pritchard, Chief Executive of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, “This could be a watershed moment: leaders coming together recognising the serious work that needs to be done for the nation’s health, for climate, for nature and to secure a resilient and prosperous future for the country. Citizens, businesses, farmers, and civil society are all signalling our willingness to act – but we also need the rules of the game to change. Governments must play their part by creating an aligned and coherent policy framework. The calls to action in this statement represent a willingness to tackle – at last – those tricky issues that so far have been kicked down the road. We know that citizens and farmers are clamouring for action. And frankly the cost of inaction is simply unaffordable.”

Full text of the Hope Farm statement:
Food and farming in the UK are at a critical inflection point.

In the aftermath of World War II, the UK government asked farmers to intensify production, maximise yields and produce food as cheaply as possible – and they did this very well.

However, we know now that this policy has come at a significant societal and environmental cost, while increasingly trapping farmers themselves in a supply chain vulnerable to global price shocks, climate threats and geopolitical crises. These costs, both visible and hidden, are paid by us all – by the environment, through our taxes, and in the health and wellbeing of present and future generations. Right now, farmers are struggling with the impacts of climate change, are not receiving a fair price for their produce, and more and more households face food poverty and insecurity, while good food is wasted.

It does not have to be like this. We have an opportunity – and in some cases a legal obligation – to ensure that everyone in the UK has enough healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food, and to tackle dietary inequalities; to provide a clear direction, fair reward, and reliable, long-term package of support to the farmers to produce the healthy food we need; to ensure a healthy and flourishing countryside and natural environment; to address the climate and biodiversity crises, and to safeguard high animal welfare.

Over the past year, a group of leaders from farming, business, civil society, research, and government has met to reflect on how we can play our full part in leading the transition. We ourselves are inspired by the citizens involved in the UK-wide Food Conversation, who are clear in their call for governments across the UK and businesses to act for fairer, greener, healthier food and farming. And we know that pivoting from the current system to a new one will require clear and courageous leadership; strategically aligned policies; and supportive regulation.

Together, we are calling for the next UK Government as a matter of urgent national priority – starting in its first 100 days – to implement a bold national food and farming strategy for the UK, drawing on the wealth of evidence available, including in the National Food Strategy.

Our six core recommendations are:

  • Legally binding targets and policy coherence: the adoption of clear and legally binding national food systems targets designed to deliver sustained progress against a coherent set of long-term food system objectives which should include: access to healthy, sustainable diets; the safeguarding of food resilience; tackling and adapting to climate change; protecting and restoring nature; ensuring water security; and ending household food insecurity. These targets should be underpinned by an effective cross-cutting governance structure to ensure policy coherence and be aligned with nature and climate targets already set out in law.
  • Increased public as well as private sector funding to support farmers with the transition to more sustainable practices: a guaranteed agricultural budget commensurate with the scale of the task until 2029, sufficient to invest in a just transition to sustainable farming and food resilience; food production in harmony with nature, based on regenerative and sustainable farming systems; and the protection and restoration of nature and action on climate to which the UK is committed by law; and the development of reliable and secure income streams for farmers from private sources, paying them for their work to further create and enhance public and private services, focused on climate, natural capital and social outcomes
  • Robust public procurement standards, coupled with tighter regulation on unhealthy food: robust, mandatory nutrition and sustainability standards for all public food procurement, setting a target of [at least] 50% local procurement with high environmental standards. This would be coupled with the implementation of existing regulations on the statute books concerning unhealthy food advertising and volume promotions, noting that the right policy framework and incentives will stimulate action from the public as well as private sector to shift to healthier, more sustainable foods;
  • Multifunctional land use framework: a multifunctional land use framework to support local decision-making that meets climate, health, nature, and food resilience goals, includes targets for sustainable food production, and which helps to mediate decisions with other sectors (such as housing and energy);
  • Fair and consistent standards: the application of high standards that encourage fairness with a strong and straightforward regulatory framework that covers all sectors and ensures fair dealing between retailers and intermediaries and farmers. This would be linked to a coherent trade strategy built around core standards for environmental sustainability, animal health and welfare, and that covers imported food; designed to ensure that domestic food production is not undermined by imports produced to lower standards;
  • Measurement and disclosure frameworks for accountability: based on a common measurement framework which enables decision-makers to assess the impacts of their policies and delivery for climate, nature, health, and social capital; coupled with mandatory public reporting by food companies of sales data on health and sustainability metrics.

Signatories 09.05.2024
Anna Taylor (CEO, The Food Foundation)
Andrew Selley, (CEO Bidfood)
Bas Padberg (UK Managing Director, Arla UK)
Beccy Speight, (CEO, RSPB)
Edward Davey (Head, World Resources Institute Europe UK Office)
Helen Browning (CEO, Soil Association)
Henry Dimbleby (author of the National Food Strategy)
Hilary McGrady (CEO, National Trust)
James Mayer (CEO, Danone UK & Ireland)
James Perry (Co-Chair, COOK)
Jeremy Oppenheim (Founding Partner, SYSTEMIQ)
Martin Lines (CEO, Nature Friendly Farming Network)
Patrick Holden (Founding Director, Sustainable Food Trust)
Paul Polman (Former CEO, Unilever)
Richard Watson (CEO, Nestle UK and Ireland)
Sue Pritchard (CEO, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission)
Tanya Steele (CEO, WWF-UK)
Shaun Spiers, (Executive Director, Green Alliance)
William Kendall (Farmer & Board Member)

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