Nine steps for Michael Gove to take towards a better food system

17th May 18 by Krysia Woroniecka

Brexit presents an opportunity for the health of people and soil, can the government sow the seeds of a better and fairer food system?

As you’ve no doubt heard, the UK is leaving the EU… and that means a chance to rethink how we subsidise and regulate our agricultural system. Over the past weeks, the government ran a consultation on their proposals for replacing Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after Brexit. Along with 44,000 other respondents to the consultation, Feedback had our say on what we think needs to change:

  1. European farming subsidies have long been unpopular with policymakers and some farmers alike because subsidies are linked to farmsize instead of outputs. The government is now considering how it should spend public money to incentivise farmers to achieve improvements in areas such as biodiversity, soil health and reducing carbon emissions. A great step in the right direction, but we think that growing healthy food also needs to be near the top of Michael Gove’s list – after all, the food that goes into good diets also turns out to be pretty good for the planet.
  2. The move away from rewarding big landowners for, well, having a lot of land, is vital – instead we’d like to see a mix of big and small farms that use sustainable methods (such as organic, agroforestry and a mix of different crops).
  3. And talking of farming methods, we aren’t keen on food crops being grown in order to produce energy rather than feeding people, such as maize, or lots of land being used to grow foods that nobody should be eating much of, such as sugar beet. In fact, we called on Gove to consider a cap on sugar production so we aren’t growing more than the UK population’s recommended daily allowance.
  4. In order to achieve these aims, the government will need to scratch their current definition of agricultural productivity. Instead of thinking purely in terms of pounds and pence, we argue that a farm’s productivity should be calculated in terms of nutritional value consumed per acre – i.e. how much good, healthy food is grown and eaten.
  5. Grown AND eaten – that bit’s important because as we all know, millions of tonnes of food to go waste every year, much of it on farms. That’s why one of our main recommendations to Mr. Gove was to create a target to halve food waste, including on farms.
  6. Of course there will always be some food waste that is no longer suitable for human consumption, and this should be fed to animals. We want the government to lift the ban on feeding food waste that may contain meat to omnivores – and many farmers agree with us. This will make feeding animals cheaper and mean importing less soya from abroad.
  7. The government can support a better food system by making sure that hospitals and schools buy their groceries from a variety of sustainable producers. We asked them to make their application forms easier and use what is known as the balanced scorecard approach to help smaller, local producers win contracts to supply local services.
  8. But not all government support needs to come in the form of payments. By helping farmers to form cooperatives and access shorter supply chains the government can ensure farmers receive more of each pound consumers spend on food.
  9. We must not undermine sound gains here with less sound grains from overseas…food coming from abroad should also meet our high standards- we want the government to uphold our right to eat food that is produced sustainably and with high standards of animal welfare. We don’t want to see food imports that simply move the environmental degradation elsewhere by out-sourcing the production of cheap food.

You can read about this and about our model for a sustainable food system in our full consultation response here. Brexit presents an opportunity for the health of people and soil, can the government sow the seeds of a better and fairer food system?



What can you do next?