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What’s on the menu? 2024 political manifestos for food and farming

Comparing party manifestos on food and farming to the National Food Strategy by Henry Dimbleby

With the election coming up, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at what each of the parties are promising with regards to food and farming and how their suggestions relate to the incredibly well-researched and thought-out National Food Strategy proposed by Henry Dimbleby. Whichever party gets in, we plan to review what they have done in relation to what they stated on their manifesto in a year’s time.

Despite their differences there are a few things that are common throughout:

  • Food, farming and the environment are positioned low down in the manifesto
  • None of the parties mention the National Food Strategy produced by Henry Dimbleby, although the Liberal Democrats mention a National Food Strategy, but it isn’t clear whether they mean his or not.
  • Only 4 out of 14 of the National Food Strategy’s recommendations are even vaguely mentioned across all manifestos. The first two recommendations (introducing a Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax to fund fresh fruit and vegetables for low-income families, and mandatory reporting for large food companies) have been completely ignored by all parties. These are perhaps the most significant in terms of impact and would cost the government next to nothing beyond administrating them and the first would even raise revenues. One can’t help feeling there must have been a lot of lobbying going on behind the scenes.
  • Most of the parties are very vague on what they are going to do and how they are going to achieve it. The Green Party’s solution seems to be to throw money at everything, but there’s no plan for where that money comes from.
Henry Dimbleby speaking about the National Food Strategy he wrote at our Better Hospitality Conference
Henry Dimbleby speaking about the National Food Strategy he wrote at our Better Hospitality Conference

The National Food Strategy was so well researched and written in a very non-partisan way. All the parties had to do was lift the recommendations from it and put it in their manifesto. Instantly, their plans would have stood head and shoulders above the rest. However, we have the duty to choose between the best of a bad bunch, so let’s take a look at how they differ:

The manifestos

Farming and food

Budget for agriculture:

  • Conservatives will increase the farming budget by £1 billion. These will be grants supporting food security and environmental land management.
  • Labour says it will ‘introduce a land-use framework and make environment land management schemes work for farmers and nature’. No budget is mentioned.
  • The Liberal Democrats commit to matching the Conservative budget, they say they will: “Accelerate the rollout of the new Environmental Land Management schemes, properly funding it with an extra £1 billion a year to support profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly farming.”
  • Reform says it will Increase the farming budget to £3 billion. It will scrap climate-related farming subsidies.
  • The Greens say they will push for ‘financial support for farmers to be almost tripled to support their transition to nature-friendly farming.’ Currently, the government spends £2.4 billion pa on farming – so tripling it would bring that spend to £7.2 billion!

Local and sustainably-produced food/healthy food

  • Conservatives undertake to ‘Improve public sector procurement to deliver our goal that at least 50% of food expenditure is spent on food produced locally or to higher environmental production standards.’
  • And so does the Labour Party who say, ‘We will set a target for half of all food purchased across the public sector to be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards.’ It confirms it will offer ‘breakfast clubs’ in schools across the nation.
  • The Liberal Democrat party takes a broader  view. In its manifesto it states: ‘Too many families simply can’t afford enough healthy, nutritious food. Ultra-processed foods, high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, are usually much cheaper than healthier foods – contributing to serious health problems, especially among poorer households.’ To solve this it proposes to ‘introduce a holistic and comprehensive National Food Strategy to ensure food security, tackle rising food prices, end food poverty and improve health and nutrition.’ It doesn’t state how this food strategy will vary from the already much lauded ‘National Food Strategy’ report produced by Henry Dimbleby at the behest of the current government. They also say they will be:
    • Improving standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture, including a ban on caged hens, and preventing unnecessarily painful practices in farming.
    • At least matching the EU’s stricter rules on preventative use of antibiotics, and introducing a comprehensive plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance in farm animals.
  • Reform states that ‘ Productive land must be farmed, not be used for solar farms or rewilding.’ It promises to ‘stop Natural England from taking action that damages farmers.’ Its aims regarding the sourcing of food by public bodies is more ambitious than other parties – ‘taxpayer funded organisations should source 75% of their food from the UK.’ And it is committed to making the UK more self-sufficient altogether – ‘little more than half the food we consume is UK produced. Target 70% to ensure food security.’ – but there is no detail regarding exactly how this could be achieved.
  • The Greens lament the unhealthiness of our national diet in the same way that the Liberal Democrats do, saying, ‘Our food system is failing us all. Poor diets are estimated to cost our NHS £6.5bn a year yet successive governments have failed to take on the unhealthy food lobby. Meanwhile, the way we produce our food is damaging our natural world and our climate.’ The Greens have picked out a number of the recommendations regarding changing cultural attitudes to diet made in the Dimbleby National Food Strategy, as follows:
    • All children to have a free school meal each day and free breakfast clubs for children to Year 6.
    • Schools to involve children in growing, preparing and cooking food, as part of the core curriculum.
    • Policies that ensure that good quality surplus food is not wasted.

New technology/plans for the future

  • Conservatives say they will ‘use our significant investment in R&D to prioritise cutting-edge technology in areas such as fertiliser and vertical farming.’
  • Labour commits to ‘work with farmers and scientists on measures to eradicate Bovine TB, protecting livelihoods, so that we can end the ineffective badger cull.’
  • So do the Liberal Democrats, who are looking to invest in vaccines to help control bovine tuberculosis. They also say they will  be ‘Introducing a Research and Innovation Fund to support new and emerging technologies in the sector including the development of alternative proteins in which the UK can become a world leader.’
  • Reform says, ‘farmers must have access to new technology to boost production and cut costs. UK food security also depends on fertiliser supply and production.’
  • No information in the Green’s manifesto regarding new technology in agriculture.

Note: most manifestos state a commitment to support farmers; to negotiate better trade deals; to improve animal welfare; and to work toward cleaner waterways.

For reference, below are the recommendations in the National Food Strategy, with those mentioned by party manifestos highlighted in green.

Recommendations

National Food Strategy, Dimbleby report

1. Escape the junk food cycle and protect the NHS

Recommendation 1

Introduce a Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax. Use some of the revenue

to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families.

Recommendation 2

Introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies.

2. Reduce diet-related inequality

Recommendation 5

Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years.

Recommendation 6

Expand the Healthy Start scheme.

Recommendation 7

Trial a “Community Eatwell” Programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.

3. Make the best use of our land

Recommendation 8

Guarantee the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to

more sustainable land use.

Recommendation 10

Define minimum standards for trade, and a mechanism for protecting them.

4. Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Recommendation 11

Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.

Recommendation 12

Create a National Food System Data programme.

Recommendation 14

Set clear targets and bring in legislation for long-term change.

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