Harper Adams University: Collaborative, dynamic and science-led approach needed to shape discussions around the Government’s Food Strategy

A collaborative, dynamic and science-led approach is needed to shape discussions around the Government’s food strategy, a leading sustainable food and farming expert believes.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Harper Adams University, Professor Michael Lee, was speaking after the Food Strategy policy paper was presented to Parliament on Monday – underlining the key role food and farming plays at the heart of the UK economy as the nation’s largest manufacturing industry.

The paper notes the impact that unforeseen events – such as the coronavirus pandemic or Ukraine conflict – can have upon food production – and the need for an adaptable response to these challenges.

Professor Lee said: “The world has changed dramatically since the release of the National Food Strategy with the invasion of Ukraine causing shock waves to the global food system, not to mention of course the cataclysmic impact on its people.

“The policy paper reflects the need to support local and national food production with a focus on supporting our farmers to continue to produce high quality nutritious food at the highest global standards, which is most welcome, supports four million jobs and delivers £150 billion to the UK economy.

“Ukraine has shown that the fragility and risk of increasing reliance on global imports, especially for something as vital and fundamental as food. This has pivoted the green deal somewhat back towards productivity and, of course, efficiency.

“However, we still must address our broken food system to deliver human and planetary health in concert. In a G7 nation with rising numbers of food banks, we need to focus on how we make high-quality food accessible for all – as food security is a public good.

“The country and our farming community need support in realising this transition to align high quality food production at one with nature. More finite detail is needed as to how the government will continue to use ELMS and other DEFRA initiatives to drive change and support to transition to a truly sustainable agri-food system.

“Driving consumer change around how much and what we should eat, away from ultra-processed foods, refined sugars and oils needs greater support – and the report indicates this is to come.

“Obviously, policy to change how we farm, what we grow and how we use our land to support the environment must be co-developed and aligned with what we consume to drive human health. Only then will policy truly support the agri-food transition that we critically need – this policy is a step in the right direction, but possibly not the leap we had been hoping for.”

With centres of excellence developed around a cohesive research agenda, Harper Adams has been working to develop resilient and durable approaches to these challenges in food culture, product innovation, agri-business support and sustainable land use, among others.

These have been driven through both its academic departments and via the School of Sustainable Food and Farming. The School works on a cross-University basis and with industry partners – including the National Farmers’ Union, Morrisons, and McDonalds UK and Ireland.

It will use research and knowledge to examine net-zero UK agriculture, biodiversity, animal welfare, rural community support, green energy production and farm profitability.

And while Professor Lee – who spoke to the BBC about the issue this morning – identified there are valid criticisms of some parts of the current approach, there are great opportunities for the food and farming sector too.

He added: “Whilst some issues in the report will take time to solve, we must act now.

“That is what Harper Adams is doing through its Future Farm, the School of Sustainable Food and Farming, and through its leading role in education, skills and high-impact research.

“We are already working with many actors in the sector, including leading a round table discussion earlier this year on the implementation of a ‘what works centre’ – which is now a key recommendation of the report.

“Future generations need to be able to access high quality, affordable and sustainable food, but they also need to live on a safe and habitable planet. There is nothing more urgent.”