The government’s new food strategy fails misses a major opportunity to boost national security, reduce emissions and improve public health outcomes through plant-based diets, writes the Plant-based Food Alliance UK’s Marisa Health
The Government’s recent Food Strategy white paper represents a missed opportunity and does not go far enough to realise the potential that plant-based foods offer.
Plant-based food and drink has incredible potential to deliver on the government’s environmental, health and food security aims. Scientists agree that the fastest, most cost-effective and least socially disruptive way to tackle the climate crisis is to reduce livestock consumption and accelerate the shift towards plant-based diets.
Plant-based products are already a popular fixture in our food system, and the fastest-growing part of the industry. Just over a quarter of the UK population already describe themselves as flexitarian and the UK has some of the highest purchase and consumption rates of plant-based grocery products across Europe.
There is a massive opportunity to lean into this shift and further increase plant-based consumption. Doing so would support this people-powered transition to a more sustainable, healthier food system, while simultaneously attracting more innovation and investment in the UK. The shift towards plant-based foods will ensure our national food security for future generations, help tackle our national health crisis, improve the national economy, and address the climate crisis.
There are elements of the Food Strategy that are welcome. There is potential in the promised development of a separate horticulture strategy and we support the commitment to the role of alternative proteins. But if the government is serious about this work, we need to go further and map out how meat and dairy consumption will decrease over time. The government should adopt a target for increasing plant-based consumption, as suggested by Henry Dimbleby to meet our net zero goal.
There are other opportunities to take big strides towards creating a better food system. The government intends to make funding available to farmers, to support the transition to low carbon farming practices. This must include helping farmers to meet growing demand for more sustainable plant-based food and drink products.
The UK has the real chance to drive a positive shift in food production, for the long-term benefit of the environment, businesses and consumers. Our Alliance is keen to see more ambition come through as the thinking develops around this White Paper and we are also working with the Scottish Government on its proposals to develop a Good Food Nation Plan. The time to act has never been more urgent and the scale of change in recent years – in both public perceptions and industry innovation – shows there are many reasons to be optimistic about the plant-based sector’s ability to drive positive change.
Marisa Heath is the CEO of the Plant-based Food Alliance UK, which countsAlpro, The Good Food Institute Europe, Oatly, ProVeg, Upfield, and The Vegan Society among its members.