/ Food & Drink

What’s the future of our food?

What do the future decades hold for consumers, food suppliers and farmers? There are plenty of challenges, but also opportunities, ahead…

It’s a really interesting and important time for our food. Our food supply chain, food laws and wider approach, such as how farmers are supported, has been closely linked to our EU membership. So we need to decide what we want for the future.

Which? wants to make sure that consumer interests are at the heart of our future food policy – so this week we brought together a range of experts from across the food chain to talk about the challenges and priorities.

Micheal Gove, as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has recently asked Henry Dimbleby, a co-founder of the food chain, Leon, to write a national food strategy for England.

The Scottish Government is also currently consulting on proposals for how to become a Good Food Nation – and across the UK there are discussions taking place about future agriculture.

What’s at stake

Brexit could raise some immediate issues – such as making sure we hold on to important consumer protections and put robust food controls in place.

But it is important that we also take this opportunity to join up the way that food is dealt with across government departments.

At the moment different departments with different priorities all have a role – whether that’s protecting food safety, tackling obesity and other public health issues, promoting the growth of the food industry, how we trade food products or how we tackle the environmental impact of food production.

We know from our research that people expect that food standards will be maintained after we leave the EU – and if anything they think we should take the opportunity to enhance them by improving animal welfare for example.

Food standards

The majority of people have told us that they don’t want us opening up our doors to products produced using practices that aren’t currently allowed – such as hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken for example.

Most people also want to support UK producers where its feasible. That’s particularly the case with meat and dairy products, for example, where people want to buy local and support high welfare standards.

They also think that support given to farmers should be linked to better animal welfare or food safety, for example.

The experts that came to our conference all generally agreed that we need to value food more and make sure that public health is more of a priority.

In the coming months, Which? will build on the consumer research we have carried out, pushing to ensure that the way we produce food in the UK, as well as what we decide to import, reflects what consumers need and want.

What do you think should be the priorities for the government and food industry going forward? Do you think we need to do anything differently?

Valerie Drinkwater says:
18 January 2019

I think we need to support our farmer’s in this country. I also think that we need to go back to the farming methods of years ago when animals were not interfered with chemical wise to increase bulk.

David P. Robson. BEM says:
18 January 2019

Recent history has show current governments inspection regime on food inspection, e.g. of chicken abattoirs, has failed and needs improving. Shows need to strengthen by legislation [not voluntary codes] food safety.

Worried government will allow import of American beef which is heavily impregnated with antibiotics, which must surely be a risk to those consuming it. Only good quality food should enter the food chain to be of benefit to consumers!

I think that we need the standards maintained or improved from where they currently are and after Brexit we do not let those standards slip as part of any trade deal with the likes of the USA for instance, were they are cavalier over the use of growth hormones, antibiotics and genetic manipulation resulting in ‘better’ and ‘novel’ foodstuffs which are currently banned in the UK.

We have a wonderful chance to continue producing wonderful fresh produce, of a great standard, which helps farmers and consumers alike, in this country. I would hate to think that chlorine washes chickens and hormone fed beef will become the norm. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I wish Minette Batters and Prof. Chris Elliott well for the future of British food production and hope that what they are striving to achieve becomes reality.

Gail Hall says:
18 January 2019

All animals must be pre stunned before their death in an abattoir.

A FULL captive bolt stun, not a recoverable one. NO religiously slaughtered meat.

I totally agree with this, we do generally require animal produce in our diet but all animals should be killed humanely and religious beliefs should not override our standards

What concerns me is that the US Agribusiness leaders are intending to seek Trump’s approval to up their lobbying of the UK Government as a response to the current Brexit dilemma. It is the kind of thing Trump would not see a problem with, namely, our wish to retain current standards regarding food and production is not important, and our mendacious government has already consulted with the Americans regarding food trade, and the lowering of standards for trade.

I think food standards will slip and I do not believe a word that michael gove says he is an ardent brexiteer and he will not care about our animal welfare (or ours). Chemicals and antibiotic use will increase and I do not want that.

Dealing with campylobacter is a problem and chlorine washed chicken seems one way to combat it. I would be prepared to see it on sale, and consider other treatment of food, providing they were very clearly marked as such, so that we have the choice of what to buy. If no one wants to buy it then it will not succeed; I wouldn’t.

I worry that subsidies can create a lazy industry that is less incentivised to find more efficient solutions; I am also concerned that large producers can benefit disproportionately at the expense of smaller ones. Current subsidies seem aimed at land owners rather than food producers.

I would like to see us less dependent on imported food. I think we need the farming community to explain why they cannot produce some food without subsidy to compete with imports. We seem to be competitive in some areas; for example we import 70 000 tonnes of mutton and lamb but export 74000 tonnes. So presumably we could be self sufficient by keeping our own produce?

We are all under pressure to eat less meat or even go vegan in order to feed the world, reduce climate change and stop the unethical treatment of farm animals. The introduction of American chicken that has been treated to make it safer will draw more people away from eating meat, especially British meat that hasn’t been ‘improved’.

We used to do much better in years past – before producers were obliged to put in claims for support, and before the general public was so inclined not to cook, but to take the easy way out and either buy fast food or use ready meals. We’re beset by advice about what is good for us and what is not – everyone is an individual and learns from experience what suits him or her best. If we were encouraged to be really interested in our food, in animal welfare and in how fruit, veg etc are grown, the pressure of public opinion would easily be felt by producers!

Surely the best way forward for our food and farming policies and the future of our planet would be to subsidise farms that use agroecological methods, especially organic farming, which boost the nutritional quality of foods, retain carbon in the soils and emit far less greenhouse gases and less poisonous waste running off into our streams.or drains. Subsidies should in future be switched away from our ruminant livestock producers, who create the most greenhouse gas emissions of any sector, to organic fruit, vegetable and wholegrain producers to provide a healthier diet for our people and planet.

Susan Redshaw says:
18 January 2019

Animal welfare must have top priority.

Quality is of essence! However, we must be prepared to pay a fair price and not haggle about thongs like a bent or misshaped carrot!

Anything imported from elsewhere must meet our stanards and must be organic – i.e.: not have been grown using chemicals to enhance the products growth.

Bill0 says:
18 January 2019

I buy British when ever I can as its the best money can buy. A depreciation in our standards would destroy the standards respected all over the world. If only supermarkets sold more British food and veg instead of importing foods of a lower quality because the make more profit the better we would be. Our farmers richly deserve our respect and support now and in the future.

I agree with many of the comments made. I would also add that we should try and use the opportunity to push for sustainable food production with farmers being rewarded for the highest possible welfare and environmental standards. We need to avoid a push towards factory farming at all costs. People need to value their food more and this might mean they need to reduce their consumption of convenience, low quality food and pay a little bit more for it.

Michael Neve says:
18 January 2019

We must take the oppotunity to produce much more our own food. I have travelled regularly in Europe over the last forty years and have been staggered by the amount of HGVs that now clog up and pollute the roads across the EU. We should not source our food from even further afield to replace that bought in the EU, we need to invest, produce much more of our own food and cut down the miles that food travels.

We need to support our own farmers and market gardeners also everyone needs to be encouraged to grow their own food even those who have no gardens – window boxes and hanging baskets are suitable. Even Seniors can do their bit by growing herbs and simple plants. Violets, pansies, rose petals/hips and lavender are all edible. Schoolchildren should be encouraged at school to grow food using crop rotation which was first introduced by Jethro Tull – that in turn could link up with a history lesson.

We also need to use the free natural food – provided it is not growing where there is heavy traffic – dandelions, clover, chicory, crab apples, hazlenuts and blackberries.

Those growing their own food should look for natural fertilizers and make their own using vegetable/fruit scraps. There are of course certain plants that don’t do well together but libraries for those without computers and the internet for those with are good sources of information to combat that problem and some plant partnerships help to combat the diseases of their partner plants.

Alex. Sinclair says:
18 January 2019

“Even seniors…” There does seem to be an increasing trend for casual ageism lately! As someone who comes into the senior category I grow a large and varied range of vegetables in our relatively modest sized garden and ensure that all plant waste goes back into the soil as compost. However I do feel a twinge of guilt that we will be eating asparagus from Peru tonight – seasonality is perhaps a concept that we should be encouraged to rediscover.

Supermarkets need to put more emphasis into locally sourced food and shoppers would do well to use locally owned shops as their first stop for food. In my experience it is the local grocer, butcher etc who is best supporting local producers.

Great idea Claire: getting kids involved in growing things at school can only help to educate them about farming and nature generally. It does seem we’re all becoming more and more out of touch with the natural world and where our food comes from…

I do enjoy taking children to “farm park” attractions. Conversations with some of the staff there tend to confirm that the majority of the population is really out of touch with the realities of farming.

Veronica-Mae Soar says:
21 January 2019

When some children were asked about where certain foods came from their answers were hilarious in the extreme. But when teachers at school try to teach them they can sometimes be admonished by parents. – vide the mother who screamed at a teacher “How dare you tell my child that eggs come out of a chicken’s bottom” Thankfully rare, but good for a giggle

Perhaps more cities should have something like this:


Great idea, but are they having an adverse effect and promoting veganism by having cute baby animals?

In some cases, perhaps but in general, I suspect not.

I trust the city farms put over the message that animals are not just there for cuddles and selfies but are part of the food chain.

At least I learnt something from looking at the St James City Farm website; I never knew that a bagot was a rare breed of goat.

Dunno, but I’m sure their vegetable produce goes into the food chain.

Veronica-Mae Soar says:
23 January 2019

Quite a lot of them do

Veronica-Mae Soar says:
23 January 2019

At least one school for those with special needs runs a small farm where they look after all kinds of animals from young to maturity. They know what happnes to them and accept it.

Trevor says:
18 January 2019

Interesting the way it’s assumed UK standards must be the best.

John Roberts says:
18 January 2019

Imported food which has been produced by agriculturists who use hormones & antibiotics should be banned. The average ‘Joe’ in the US eats a tremendous quantity of meat in one form or another —- & the average ‘Joe’ is grossly overweight. We need an inspection/authentication system which ensures imports are up to our specification and the product needs to be so labelled in the shop. The government needs to be told that they should not bend our rules just to get a trade deal agreed with any nation — and the Minister of Health must be one of the leading ministers in any trade deals to ensure that imports of food do not prejudice the health of the nation.

Pallavi says:
18 January 2019

Locally produced organic food is the only way forward; we need to have policies that encourage this; factory farmed meat should not be allowed to be on sale or imported. Its a barbaric practice that ahs no place in the 21st century. Standards of food should be much higher than they are currently

Geoffrey Adams says:
18 January 2019

Organic production means lower production meaning someone, somewhere will go hungry when they need not have done. Is this ethical? I don’t think so.

Lower food production and higher prices would make life harder for anyone who is already struggling financially, including those who are only getting by thanks to aid from food banks.

Yes indeed, every right thinking British person wants to maintain high food standards but we don’t want ridiculous requirements like bananas being straight for the first 4 inches then a continuous progressive 25 degree after that! We managed very well before the EU. It was even good when we had the EC but we will managed once more to feed ourselves if the snowflake intellectuals will leave beef farmers alone. Beef never killed anyone. There was no problem with people overweight before either the EU or the EC.

Well, your final sentence is incorrect. The US has a higher percentage of the overweight, yet they have nothing to do with the EU or EC. And referring to those who might not share your opinions as “snowflake intellectuals” is somewhat insulting.

It’s worth remembering the facts: farming is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emission. Eating a lot of meat isn’t good for you on a long term basis.

The EAT – Lancet commission stated

Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability, however our current trajectories threaten both.”

We know a universal healthy reference diet, based on an increase in consumption of healthy foods (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts), and a decrease in consumption of unhealthy foods (such as red meat, sugar, and refined grains) would provide major health benefits; it’s supported by every major study done in the past 60 years.

The other fact is simply that we eat too much of the wrong kinds of food. Children are routinely given ‘pacifier’ type diets: crisps, burgers, cans of fizzy drinks and convenience foods in general, and if they’re brought up only to eat these kinds of foods then as adults they’ll follow the same path.