Written evidence submitted by Green Alliance (FS0078)


About Green Alliance

Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Since 1979, we have been working with a growing network of influential leaders in business, NGOs and politics to stimulate new thinking and dialogue on environmental policy, and increase political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK.

This submission, focusing on questions 1, 4, 5 and 6, draws upon concepts and evidence set out in Green Alliance outputs, including:


Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance and former Chief Analytical Adviser for the National Food Strategy is available to give oral evidence.

Detailed responses

  1. What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?



The Russian invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly disrupted international markets and global supply chains, impacting the resilience of the UK’s food system. Taken together, the harvest and export of food from Ukraine and Russia represent a fifth of global grain exports. Ukraine’s farmers were forced to hide fuel from Russian soldiers in an attempt to keep their tractors running. The Black Sea was mined, interrupting grain shipments and Russia banned food exports, even to its ex-Soviet Eurasian Economic Union partners. Russian tugboats stole ships full of grain from Ukrainian ports. This in turn triggered the highest ever food prices, particularly risking food security in Africa and inflation everywhere.


However, there is still enough food to go around, it just needs distribution. Global stockpiles of grains are healthy, around 15 per cent higher than in 2011. Per capita food supply, globally, is over 2,800 kcal per person per day, which is more than enough for everyone. If we exclude the grain supply from Russia and Ukraine, the world will still have over 2,600 kcal per person per day. However, not enough money is being mobilised to address the disruption to distribution. Providing enough money to feed people priced out of food by the war in Ukraine is cheap: the FAO’s ‘severe scenario’ for the Ukraine war sees 13 million at risk of undernourishment because of higher prices. Providing three meals per day of emergency food aid for these people would cost under $7 billion per year, or around a quarter of Europe’s spending on pet food per year.


Waste, at every stage of the food supply chain, is another key threat. For example, artificial nitrogen fertiliser is now an essential part of the food system: it provides the yields that maintain the diets that feed half the global population. Russia and Ukraine are large fertiliser exporters, and fertiliser prices have more than doubled since Russia invaded. The immediate response is to think that we need more fertiliser, but half the fertiliser applied to fields is not taken up by crops but instead is wasted, causing significant air and water pollution. There are ways to avoid this, with the best farms showing that you can waste very little nitrogen and have the same yields as wasteful farms.


Additionally, the biggest sources of waste are how we choose to use crops. The most significant example is biofuels. A third of the US maize crop is turned into biofuels, in a process that is worse for the climate than burning fossil fuels. This crop could feed around half a billion people if it was fed to people instead of cars. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger estimates that if the US and Europe halved their grain-based ethanol production, it would replace all of Ukraine’s exports. Meat is another source of waste. In the west, people consume double the protein needed to be healthy which is hugely wasteful. Eighty five per cent of the UK’s food land footprint is for meat and dairy, but this provides only a third of our food. Although we harvest 5,200 kcal per person per day as crops, after feeding animals and biofuels, we end up with 40 per cent less nutrition for people, even after accounting for the dairy and meat produced.



  1. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:
  1. the resilience of food supply chains?;
  2. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;
  3. access to healthy, nutritious food?



  1. The resilience of food supply chains


The positive parts of the white paper that could improve food systems resilience include a land use framework that draws on the NFS’s three compartment model to reconcile nature, climate, livelihoods and sustainable food; clean technologies like alternative proteins and methane-reducing feed additives; procurement rules that require all government food spending to go only to healthy, sustainable food; and a Food Data Transparency Partnership with teeth, that keeps food companies honest about the progress they are making to create a nature positive, carbon negative, healthy food system.


  1. The agri-food and seafood sectors


It is difficult to reconcile the tensions between the goals of a prosperous domestic agri-food sector providing secure food and good jobs, and a trade regime that secures exports, consumer choice and no compromise in regulatory standards.


The white paper talks up UK exports, most of which, by value, are from Scotland, in the form of salmon and shellfish (£1.3 billion) and whisky (£4.5 billion), not England. But exports are a distraction from what’s at stake in trade: the power to assert UK food standards in imported food, and the principle of a level playing field with food produced in the UK.


A legal commitment to prevent food that would not meet UK standards from being imported – like deforestation-associated beef from Australia – is overwhelmingly popular, but the white paper again asserts the goal of high UK standards without any means to enforce them.


While the NFS proposed a £125 million fund and a facility to support British startups in alternative protein industries, the white paper offers only a promise to develop a proposal.


Additionally, feed additives to cut methane from cattle, which look essential to cutting carbon in the beef and dairy sector, are relegated to a call for evidence rather than a funding or regulatory commitment.


  1. Access to healthy, nutritious food


The White Paper has no policy to help retain high value jobs while escaping the junk food cycle. Nor is there anything immediate to level up the third of farms that only survive because of poor pay and long hours for the farmer. Most well-paid jobs in the food sector are in food manufacturing, but too many of these are locked into the junk food cycle, manufacturing food high in fat, sugar and salt. To address this, the NFS proposed a sugar and salt levy designed to make food manufacturers reformulate. This would keep the high value jobs without the cost to public health.



  1. Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?



The UK now uses approximately 70% of its land surface to grow food and draws on an equivalent area overseas to produce food that is imported. If policymakers are seeking to increase UK food self-sufficiency, their priority should be to support consumers to eat less meat and diary, so that the food the UK is capable of growing feeds more people.

Beef, lamb, and dairy for UK consumption require an area of land equivalent to that of Great Britain alone. By contrast, plant foods use just 15% of the land footprint of our diet, despite providing two-thirds of our calories and half our protein.


The UK is food secure both because it has the capacity to feed itself in a crisis, and because it has access to a robust and reliable set of trading partners that provide affordable, varied, and high-quality food to the UK. The most likely risk to the UK’s ability to feed itself is not a loss of access to food, it is a medium-term failure to mitigate and adapt to the climate and nature crisis.


However, in an extreme scenario, the UK can grow enough food to feed the population from domestic sources: in 2021 the UK produced approximately 1,900kcal per person per day of wheat alone, using 10% of our agricultural land. The remaining 90% of farmland can provide sufficient additional calories and other essential nutrients to feed the population in a purely theoretical crisis in which the UK faced a prolonged international blockade of food imports.


The last time the UK faced an analogous risk, it sought to increase production. In the second world war, the Ploughing-Up campaign saw an extra sixth of England’s agricultural land turned over to crops. But all that ploughing didn’t produce much food: on average, food supply expanded by just 0.5% per year during the war. However, Britain’s food self-sufficiency rate increased from 30% to 75% in the six years of the war. The difference was due to diet change: rationing, as a result of the war, drove meat consumption down by more than a quarter compared to pre-war levels (40% less than today). Eating more vegetables and grains increased UK self-sufficiency because animals are inefficient, if tasty, converters of calories: 100 calories of grain turn into 12 calories of edible chicken, 10 calories of pork or 3 calories of beef. Today, approximately half the grain the UK grows is fed to animals.



  1. How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?



The focus of ELM should not change in light of food security concerns, for two reasons. First, land should be used for what it is good at – particularly not seeking to use land that is poorly suited to food production for food. Second, although food security and food self-sufficiency are not the same thing, the most effective means of raising UK food self-sufficiency is to change diets, not food production.


Analysis carried out by the National Food Strategy shows that many farmers with land which is poorly suited to food production would make more money by focusing on environmental outcomes instead, with negligible impact on food security. Adopting a three-compartment approach in the Land Use Framework would enable the government to meet its food production, nature and climate goals simultaneously. We propose that the Government:


  • Spend a third of the ELM budget on Landscape Recovery


Landscape Recovery is the arm of ELM expected to deliver disproportionately positive benefits for nature per pound spent. Allocating a third of the £2.4 billion ELM budget to this large-scale habitat restoration would, on its own, increase bird populations by half and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than half that required across the whole sector. Currently, only two per cent of the ELM budget is available for Landscape Recovery despite strong demand for it from farmers: the pilot has had over three times more applicants than the government has said it will fund.


  • Accelerate the Local Nature Recovery scheme to give farmers on moderately productive land financial certainty


The withdrawal of the Basic Payment Scheme during the agricultural transition will leave many farmers on moderately productive land facing a financial loss. These farmers could have a viable business by combining income from food production with payments for environmental goods. The Local Nature Recovery scheme is the arm of ELM best suited to this opportunity. But the government has delayed its roll-out. Instead, it has attempted to abate the financial turmoil this brings many farmers by increasing the payment rates on Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreements by 30 per cent. However, this does little to help farmers plan for long term viability, since these agreements only last five years. Rather than perpetuate a scheme that pays for many actions that result in very little environmental benefit, the government should give farmers certainty by accelerating the roll-out of the new Local Nature Recovery scheme, enabling them to combine income from nature and climate benefits with food production.



September 2022