New report sets out how Britain can feed itself sustainably, reducing its addiction to volatile food imports and costly fossil fuel fertilisers.
The Sustainable Food Trust’s new report, Feeding Britain from the Ground Up, finds that, if we change the way we farm and what we eat, we could improve our health, protect nature, combat climate change and be more food secure as a nation. At a time when the war in Ukraine is driving price rises and shortages, this report gives a clear road map for an alternative national food and farming strategy. Surprisingly, the report finds that, by switching to sustainable farming, our diets would contain much less chicken and pork but could still include grass fed beef, dairy and lamb, along with much more fruit and vegetables.
If the UK were to switch to sustainable farming methods:
- We would produce double the amount of fruit and vegetables.
- Grain production would halve due to a phase out of chemical inputs and less land being used for intensive crop production.
- Much less grain would be fed to livestock and intensive livestock production would be phased out, resulting in a 75% decline in pork and chicken production.
- We would produce double the amount of pulses (peas and beans).
- Beef and lamb, reared mainly on grass, would continue to be produced at similar quantities as today and would become our staple meat.
This new report from the Sustainable Food Trust provides the most detailed assessment to date of how diets would need to change if future farming practices addressed the challenges of health, climate change, biodiversity restoration and food security.
Through modelling how a complete switch to sustainable and regenerative farming practices across the UK would impact British diets, the report finds that sustainable diets would include increased proportions of UK-grown vegetables, seasonal fruits, grains and pulses. They would also include dairy and some eggs. But, in contrast to conventional wisdom, which suggests that we should all move to a predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet, future sustainable diets would still include similar levels of grass-fed red meat products such as beef and lamb.
Conversely, there would be significant cuts to consumption of chicken and pork due to a dramatic decrease in grain being fed to animals as a result of adopting regenerative farming practices. This is because regenerative agriculture would require a phasing out of intensive, grain-fed livestock production and a return to ‘mixed farming’, where crops and livestock are grown in rotation to rebuild soil fertility naturally.
In many ways, the food and energy crises are directly comparable. The increased cost of fossil fuels adds further weight to the urgent need for a transition to renewable energy. The same is now true for food – price rises of fertilisers, livestock feed and fuel due to the Ukraine war should be a direct stimulus to move towards more sustainable food production. This is counter to the argument that fertilisers should be subsidised and food production further intensified to weather this storm. It is paramount that everyone has access to healthy, sustainable food and the government should intervene to ensure this.
The report further suggests that, in contrast to the land sparing agenda which sees food produced intensively on the best land while more land is set aside for nature, we can in fact farm in harmony with nature as well as increasing the amount of land for woodland creation, in line with Climate Change Committee recommendations, by integrating more trees into the farmed landscape and through agroforestry.
The report concludes that, by aligning our diets to what the UK could sustainably produce, we would be able to maintain or even improve on current levels of self-sufficiency.
Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, said:
“With the current cost of living crisis and rising worldwide hunger and food shortage, supercharged by the war in Ukraine, we face a choice in how to ensure national food security while also addressing the urgent issues of climate change, nature loss and human health. We can either double down on industrial farming to produce food that is bad for our health, the environment and food security – or we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to accelerate more sustainable food and farming and, ultimately, ensure everyone has access to healthy, sustainable food. Today, food and farming are part of the problem, but we believe they could be a big part of the solution if we make the right choices in the coming months and years.
We can all play a big role in driving the change that is urgently needed. If we want to eat sustainably, we should eat the foods that can be grown in harmony with nature across the UK. As consumers and citizens, changing our diets could be one of the most important actions we take to address the threats of climate change, nature loss and damage to public health, and support farmers to transform the way they farm.”
Teaser image credit: Sims Hill Shared Harvest Facebook page.