A sustainable food system should not only consider the environmental impact of food produced in the UK but must also apply the same standards to food imports, according to Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby.
The Defra lead non-executive and architect of the forthcoming national food strategy told this week’s Oxford Farming Conference that maintaining a level playing field on standards between food produced in the UK and that imported from overseas “is a red line that as a society we must defend vigorously”.
The theme of standards featured prominently at this year’s conference with Defra Secretary of State Theresa Villiers telling delegates that the UK can maintain or even enhance food and environmental standards as the government negotiates new trading relationships outside of the EU.
She stopped short, however, of pledging to enshrine this commitment in law as campaigners have been calling on the government to do through its Agriculture Bill, suggesting instead that tariffs would be used to restrict imports of food produced to lower standards.
The Agriculture Bill is expected to be brought before parliament this month with Villiers saying she was hopeful that the bill would be passed by the spring.
NFU president Minette Batters, meanwhile, challenged retailers and foodservice operators to only import food produced to equivalent UK standards. She also called on Villiers to establish a commission on trade standards to scrutinise trade deals and commit to strengthening public procurement rules to prioritise the provision of high quality British produce, particularly in schools and hospitals.
Taking to the stage after Villiers and Batters, Dimbleby praised the role of farmers in saving billions of people from starvation in the Green Revolution and made the case for farmers being at the heart of the transition to a more sustainable food system that responds to 21st century challenges such as unequal distribution, environmental degradation and obesity.
“If we can align behind a common vision – as, for our children’s sake, we surely must - we can pivot this system that has been so good at delivering sustenance, pleasure, jobs, and (for some!) profit, to one that does that while simultaneously restoring and enhancing our environment, sequestering carbon, and that stops making us sick,” he said.