/ 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?

Comments

No one seems to have mentioned that most British farming is eroding soil and depreciating its quality. I understand that unless farmers in general change their practices Britain will lose the ability to produce even current levels of food. This also requires farming methods that do not use so much chemical spraying etc which ruin waterways and kill insects such as bees that pollination depends on. This seems to me the most urgent reform required.

John Gaze says:
18 January 2019

Amen Susan

Well said, without the pollinators it won’t really matter what state the UK soil is in! The soil has been badly damaged since the Second World War because most of our food was at the bottom of the Atlantic. We need to look after our soil, which will also look after our pollinators!

Malcolm says:
18 January 2019

Please don’t write in grey against a bright white background. I find it difficult to read, especially when you use such a thin font.

I find this awkward too. The only easy fix seems to be magnifying the pages a bit, using the zoom function in my web browser.

The issue of unrighteous trade needs to be addressed. The prices of beverages and snacks in the coffee bars have literally catapulted this last year. The latest price of a large latte has risen to £3.95 as compared to £2.50 last year.

The vendors are not justified in charging these prices – it is pure greed.

Fred says:
18 January 2019

I think that the quality of food is controlled by manufacturers, and they are causing a lot of damage to
to the population including the animal food chain if we look at what is used in production of many of the products that they produce the ingredients mixed in to make them taste better and look more appetising
are not good.
I would like to see a serious look at some of the unnatural ingredients used and banned.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to put a tax on all items produced, to fund ongoing testing of these undesirable
and unhealthy products that are fed into the food chain.

Yes i do feel that unnatural ingredients in foods should be banned but this should NOT be done through added tax, people can hardly afford to feed themselves now without adding more tax to food. Companies need to be held resposible for the amount of sugar, salt, fat, unnatural ingredients added to foods and this needs to be stopped rather than tax us.

What concerns me is that the U.S. 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 don’t see that trade with the US would lower standards. We have more to fear from the neglect shown by the EU, eg the widespread infiltration of horsemeat in to the food chain in past years.

That was breaking regulations laid down, NOT replacing with new ones!

Totally agree. UK has never done well out of a trade deal with the USA!
Jan

John Ankrett says:
18 January 2019

I am particularly worried about growth hormones being given to meat animals. Under current UK/EU animal feedstuff rules (ie. with growth hormones banned…) UK farmers cannot compete on cost with USA animals that routinely receive growth hormones, and on a personal level I would not like to see our current legislation weakened.

Hazel Talbot says:
18 January 2019

I think in view of Brexit we should resort to the wartime “dig for victory” policies and attempt a higher level of self -sufficiency in food production.

Well said, Hazel. I completely agree with you.

Absolutely…
I walk in Derbyshire countryside every week and see hundreds of acres of lush green fields totally devoid of cattle!

Here’s a link to a 1933 aerial photo of the east side of Gloucester:

britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW041493

Close to the city, almost all of the land not used for housing or industry seems to be allotments…

Previous commentaries put this well………food in all its stages/aspects
is too important to be messed about by politicians
Sheila H
(Edited by moderators: We have edited your comment as it was all written in
capital letters. Please read our commenting guidelines for more information).

Susan Chitty says:
18 January 2019

The farmers need to be paid to keep our England green and sustainable for future generations, food prices will have to increase to encourage younger people into an increasingly ageing farmer population. Sustainability of food as well as wild life has to be appreciated. To keep England as it is will take a lot of love of the countryside and creative growing from the younger generation and they must be engaged in the process. Education is key.

We need strict regulations with regard to both food growing and food production. My fear is that a withdrawal from the EU will allow the British government to abandon present safety standards with regard to the growth and production of food in favour of profit and ‘cosying up’ to the US. We’ve read alarming reports of low standards in all areas of food in the US and I certainly do not wish to see any foodstuffs currently not allowed under EU regulations, become saleable in Britain, from the US or elsewhere. Quality not profit should be obligatory for all food.

Totally agree!

Judith says:
18 January 2019

Animal Welfare standards must not be eroded or compromised.

Absolutely. They’re not marvellous now and there’s a real fear that post Brexit, things will get worse.

I suggest you watch TV travel presenter Simon Reeve in Spain.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bqn4g1/mediterranean-with-simon-reeve-series-1-episode-4

Farmers exploit migrant workers who live in the most unhygienic disgusting conditions. Just imagine them picking your lettuce and tomatoes that then get a quick rinse under the tap.

To top it all, the plastic polytunnels end up polluting the Mediterranean Sea.

I’d be interested to see what harm US citizens have suffered directly down to their food standards.

Norman Christie says:
18 January 2019

I am a townie but appreciate the difficulties farmers face.
Now 75, I have been an allotmenteer for 60 years.
The subject that I have studied for most of that time is environmentally friendly cultivation. In the last seventy years government policy encouraged intensive farming, initially necessary as the UK was bankrupted by the last war. Oh the delights of endless turnip, cabbage, and a weekend feast, flank mutton!

We need to implement some of the work/research of environmental agriculturists.
Water retention by educating farmers in the value of creating ponds. Rewilding the uplands, allowing beavers, otters, raptors to repopulate; hefty fines for farmers and landowners who eradicate these animals and their prey for economic gain.

We need to encourage rehedging for birds and wild life, rebalancing of soils using bio-engineering rather than chemical means, biological deterrents rather than chemical, returning biological waste to the soil.

Prof. Ray Coker says:
18 January 2019

It’s essential that food and feed safety standards are maintained after Brexit. Consequently, it’s equally essential that the Food Standards Agency, the Port Health Authorities, and Trading Standards departments are adequately resourced, such that our food and feed safety monitoring procedures are fit for purpose.

It’s also very important that our food production practices are carefully evaluated for their effect on: the sustainability of farming procedures (including the impact of differing cultivation techniques and the continued application of artificial fertilisers); animal welfare; and, the quality and safety of animal and plant-based foodstuffs.

Given the recent report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health – the practicability of adhering to a low red meat diet should be considered, together with the impact of the consumption of such a diet on livestock farmers and the environment.

Finally, the potential for the introduction of new platforms (e.g. distributed ledger technology, DLT) into the management of food and feed supply chains should be thoroughly examined.

Glenn Ridehalgh says:
18 January 2019

Why is everybody obsessed about us leaving the EU!!!!! we managed quite well before we joined the EU through two world wars and still managed very well, I was born in 1951 and had a fabulous Lancashire diet eating loads of good grub[no EU in them days] always remember we are an Island and built to survive we can just carry on where we left off, we have always been good business people looking for bargains and new ideas!!! Britannia Rules OK!!!

Zelah Bysouth says:
18 January 2019

Eating out is a problem for me being diabetic and having several food intolerances. Buying a snack is a no no. Fruit doesn’t appear except in Supermarkets and green groceries. I bought a ‘steak’ bap only to find it also had lots of Red Peppers, one of my biggest intolerances.Unfortunately I have difficulty with Green food, so salad is out too.

Paul B says:
18 January 2019

All food which is not grown organically should be labeled chemically assisted, and which specific herbicide,insecticide and additive has gone into the production of the product. Regardless if it falls below the government guidelines of permitted substances and the harmful side effects of these chemicals just like on prescriptions. If there is anything good that comes out of the brexit mess we can at least revolutionise our framing systems to be more sustainable and harmonious with nature.

Anthony says:
18 January 2019

I agree with many of the previous respondents – we need to work towards environmentally sustainable food production, which itself leads to less meat production and a healthier diet.
Farmers need to learn that monocultures are bad: all that time with bare soil or seedling leaves, or ripening crop, is sunlight lost to production. The leaves and roots of different crops live at different positions, and respond to different environmental conditions. So it’s been found that a mix of crops produces more than crops in seperate fields. Other growers work to produce their own landraces, strains and mixes that do best in their conditions. And others are experimenting with alternative crops, that suit their growing conditions – that may involve not ploughing or installing land drains, for instance: as a home grower, I enjoy burdock, alexanders and arrowhead.
On the meat side, check what Knepp are doing – Isabella Tree has an excellent book – free-range and free-roaming animals.

Leaving the EU is a golden opportunity to take control of the quality of our food. After 46 years of EU membership, the junk food industry continues to thrive, marketing to us “food” which has been robbed of its nourishment by processing, and loaded with sugar, salt, fat, and a whole host of unnatural health damaging chemicals often hidden behind E numbers, so, no matter how carefully we read the small print, we don’t know what these chemicals are.
We need new legislation outlawing the adulteration of our food with sugar, salt, fat, and any unnatural chemicals, so that when we buy food we get 100% food and nothing else. It’s true some farming practices are not good for food quality, but these are nothing compared to the damage done to it by the mighty junk food industry, which politicians so far have shyed away from fighting. The EU has given its approval to many of these chemicals by awarding them “E” numbers. Once we are an independant nation again, we can demand action from politicians to stop these practices which are both scams and a public health hazard.

OK – all the above comments are very useful in providing an overview of the food situation
: in terms of production and viability of farming – many, many small farms have been taken over by corporations and are dealt with by land agents sitting in offices without the faintest clue about farming – don’t talk about farmers – talk about land agents and their bosses.Millionaires can claim benefits from the EU if they plant a few hedges – farming families can afford not the the time, money nor land loss to do so.
If farmers are to be blamed for the lack of organic produce available to consumers, the whole picture needs to be examined. Do we really want the whole of our countryside to be managed by corporations without the first clue about the environment or care about “their” animals? Distancing food production from the people who live with and care for the land and the animals that they have nurtured is not only distorting the picture, but leading us away from those who would love to, and be very proud of providing chemical-free, ethically-reared, organic food for the whole of the Country.

Economists may argue that small units are not viable, but this is rectifiable with cooperation from many sources – sharing combine harvesters – sharing slaughter houses – sharing milk production units – sharing labelling with particular needs highlighted – we could have a code for each food allergy as a legal requirement ….

All this is in the hands of politicians with half a heart and soul in the importance of food production to those who need their leadership to protect the consumers and those who care an awful lot more than corporations, land agents, shareholders and millionaire land owners – smaller farmers care – corporations do not.

D. Edney says:
18 January 2019

Better animal welfare standards. Less chemicals, pesticides and pollution. Don’t trade with those who don’t meet these standards. Better for us, the animals, the environment and the planet.