Landmark report proposes plans for a fully plant-based food system in the UK

Food sustainability, wellbeing of future generations, risk assessment and a transitioning commissioner are among the proposals to move the UK towards a plant-based food system.

A fully plant-based system is required to achieve the UK’s climate targets, reduce the impact on the NHS, improve the lives of farmers and farmworkers, and save the lives of thousands of animals, according to a landmark report published today.

The Planting Value in our Food System report was written by Dr Alex Lockwood, professor at the University of Sunderland, in consultation with The Vegan Society’s policy team. “Ambitious but practical”, the vision consists of two parts. The first proposes expansive new legislation to shift the current food system on to a different path, while the second highlights extensive research that the proposals are based on.

The work draws on current ideas and research in food policy and dozens of hours of interviews with people from the food industry. These include farm owners and workers, environmental groups, health professionals, policy experts and food suppliers.

The report acknowledges that deep-rooted changes are required at every level to achieve a fairer food system, stating the importance of social values. It calls for a unifying vision for the food system, with “coherent linkages with economics, health, and environment[al] policy through new governance mechanisms”. It adds that food policy needs to improve farmer and food producer experiences as well as respect the rights and freedoms of animals.

It suggests two major pieces of legislation. First is a Food Sustainability bill, which proposes legally binding targets for government areas like health, food poverty and climate justice. Among these targets is a reduction in the consumption of animal products. The bill would also mandate the formation of a National Food Sustainability Council, which would oversee the actions needed to overhaul the current food system. The report suggests that this could be the “new independent body” suggested in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Part One.

The second suggested legislation by the report, which comes days before Part Two of Dimbleby’s strategy, is a Wellbeing of Future Generations bill, which would enable the UK to act on sustainable development, environment, food, land use, climate and health in terms of future requirements.

Among the other recommendations are a Food System Risk Assessment process, plant-based meals becoming the default on all public and private sector menus, and a Plant-Based Transition Commissioner to carry out the interlinked social, cultural and economic shifts towards a fair and sustainable plant-based food system.

“Food poverty, insecurity, low paid jobs and disastrous environmental impacts all flow from the system we currently have — an animal-based agriculture that is out of date,” said Lockwood. “If starting from a blank sheet of paper, no one would design the system we currently have, and certainly not those who love animals.”

The plant-based food policy expert added that the pandemic has only hastened the need for these changes. “For the health of everyone — human and animal — we need rapid, sustained change.”

Louise Davies, CEO of The Vegan Society, said: “Through this significant piece of research, we have found extensive common ground around human health, food sustainability and affordability, social justice issues and our relationship with non-human animals.

“Without coordinated improvements at every level and in every aspect of our food systems, we will struggle to meet our social, health and climate change goals. The changes needed will help the UK to take proper responsibility for meeting our own needs within our fair share of global resources, whilst still trading equitably for what we cannot produce ourselves.”

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