Food review architect and farmers criticise government's watered down strategy

The architect of a major review of the country’s food system has joined industry bodies in denouncing the government's new strategy on the day it was unveiled.

Boris Johnson announced the new strategy on a vegetable farm in Cornwall on Monday.

He pledged the blueprint will "back farmers" and strengthen the resilience of the nation by increasing domestic production, so “we will grow and eat more of our own food”, to help guard against future economic shocks and crises.

The prime minister was hurried along by workers on the farm to speed up his courgette picking, at one point exclaiming "they’re very prolific, aren’t they?"But the government’s food tsar said the response to his wide-ranging review of the system fell short of what was needed.

Henry Dimbleby carried out the review into the UK's food system. Credit: PA

Leon restaurant co-founder Henry Dimbleby told The Guardian the document was "not a strategy", saying: "It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done."

Mr Dimbleby added: "There was nothing really there on health".

Mr Dimbleby's review urged the government to "nudge" consumers into changing their meat-eating habits as well as taxing salt and sugar.

But while the draft paper said ministers would "support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins", it suggested sustainable sources of protein did not have to "displace traditional sectors", pointing to "regenerative farming".

Environment Secretary George Eustice has said the government does not want people to eat less meat despite stark warnings that consumption should be curbed.

Boris Johnson unveiled the strategy on Monday. Credit: PA

He told BBC Radio 4: "Rather than lecturing the public on their diet and telling them they shouldn’t eat meat, what we should actually be doing is reducing methane emissions from livestock production, and there are some really interesting technologies coming into this space that significantly reduce methane emissions.”All mention of a salt and sugar tax appears to have been dropped.

The National Farmers Union said ministers had "stripped to the bone" proposals from the Dimbleby review, while Labour said the document was "nothing more than a statement of vague intentions".

Boris Johnson this morning defended the strategy following criticism Mr Dimbleby's criticism.

“What we are looking at is supporting UK farmers, supporting British agriculture,” the prime minister told LBC Radio.

“Frankly, we have got an opportunity now to eat much more domestic produce and improve our food security.”

He added: “I’m very grateful to Henry for all the work he has done. This is about helping to support UK food and farming at a particularly important time.”

The government said it had accepted "the majority of recommendations" from the food tsar’s report, with policy initiatives to boost health, sustainability and accessibility of diets, and to secure food supply.

There are now plans to introduce further sugar and salt taxes. Credit: PA

One clear priority for ministers is to reduce the distance between farm and fork, with a vision for 50% of public sector food spending to go on food produced locally or certified to higher standards.

The strategy also sets out plans to create a new professional body for the farming and growing industry, to boost training and develop clear career pathways, equipping people and businesses with the skills needed to run sustainable and profitable businesses.

Mr Johnson said: "Our food strategy sets out a blueprint for how we will back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security.

"Harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food – unlocking jobs across the country and growing the economy, which in turn will ultimately help to reduce pressure on prices."

Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs, accused the government of failing to deliver “much more than a new slogan”.

Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of farming group Sustain, said: "In the face of multiple crises in the cost of living, rocketing obesity, climate change and nature loss, the government food strategy looks shamefully weak."

The Food Foundation called the paper "disappointing", saying it "misses this mark" as many of its commitments will "flounder without new legislation to make them stick".

The charity’s executive director, Anna Taylor, said: "Despite its name, the whole document is lacking a strategy to transition the food system towards delivering good food which is accessible to everyone."