Written Evidence submitted by Dr Elizabeth Westaway (SH0067)

I am submitting this evidence as an ecological public health nutrition specialist.

There are clear linkages between soil health, crop health, animal health, food quality, human nutrition and health, and planetary health. In order to have a healthy population, we have to focus on restoring a healthy soil biome as the foundation.


  1. A. How can the Government measure progress towards its goal of making all soils sustainably managed by 2030?


Measure year-on-year reduction in glyphosate and synthetic fertiliser application, tillage.


Measure year-on-year improvement in beneficial soil microbiology for the crop being grown on a particular piece of ground, soil structure, water holding capacity, worm counts, brix values.


Measure year-on-year active carbon and soil organic matter content.


The Soilmentor app records progress in improving soil health by monitoring key indicators.


Growing Real Food for Nutrition CIC www.grffn.org records progress of growers/farmers to self-certify ability to grow high quality, nutrient dense food from healthy soils.



B. What are the challenges in gathering data to measure soil health how can these barriers be overcome?


Focusing on the wrong issue. There is too much emphasis on Carbon sequestration, which increases opportunities for greenwashing. Walter Jehne, an Australian soil microbiologist and climate activist calls for a soil carbon sponge which can sequester more water, keep the water in the ground and repair the damaged hydrological cycle.


Over-complicating data collection – too much and too frequent – is going to create problems from the get-go as farmers/growers are busy people. The monitoring system needs to be simple, accurate, timely, useful and relevant.


If every grower/farmer is recording data via an app for a very limited number of key indicators, they have a permanent record, for self-certification, and this can be shared annually with the Government.



  1. A. Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/land managers maintain and/or improve soil health?


No. Industrial agriculture systems and greenwashed regenerative agriculture systems promote business as usual rather than prioritising soil health.


B. If not, how should they be improved?


The regulations need to prioritise soil biology – a healthy Soil Food Web – based on predator/prey cycles which is basic ecological science. Use of toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilisers and tillage disturb the soil food web, killing soil biology, destroying soil structure, increasing risk of flooding, and producing unhealthy crops/animals. Elaine Ingham has published widely on this topic.


Evidence from the Rodale Institute, Elaine Ingham, Christine Jones and David Montgomery shows that no-till, diverse permanent cover crops, no toxic chemicals/synthetic fertilisers should be standard practice. Christine Jones talks about quorum sensing for healthy biomes and the Jena Biodiversity experiment in Germany.


Growers/farmers need to be testing their soil biology on a regular basis (at minimum annually) to monitor improvements in the soil food web; particularly at the first, second and third trophic levels. By increasing the number and diversity of beneficial soil micro-organisms, multiple benefits result.



  1. A. Will the standards under Environmental Land Management schemes have sufficient ambition and flexibility to restore soils across different types of agricultural land?


No. There needs to be a greater awareness of ecology, soil biology and ecosystem services amongst growers/farmers and the Government.



B. What are the threats and opportunities for soil health as ELMs are introduced?


Without growers/farmers understanding ecology, soil biology and ecosystem services, including linkages to crop health, animal health, food quality, human nutrition and health, and planetary health, the minimum changes are likely to be introduced as a tick box exercise.


Permaculture design needs to be used, so that ecological principles and practices are adopted to restore degraded land - see the work of John D. Liu on ecosystem restoration – and for effective site layouts that stack functions – see Richard Perkins.


The hydrological cycle needs to be focused upon – see the work of Didi Pershouse and Walter Jehne – to reverse climate change, create a soil carbon sponge and improve water quality.


Farmers/growers need to know how to make biologically active compost and liquid amendments to improve the number and diversity of beneficial soil micro-organisms, which are necessary to make nutrients/minerals plant available – see Elaine Ingham and John Kempf.

  1. A. What changes do we need to see in the wider food and agriculture sector to encourage better soil management?


There needs to be an urgent paradigm shift away from industrial agriculture practices towards smaller, mixed, agroecological/regenerative organic agriculture/permaculture approaches that prioritise soil health.


Greater awareness across the food system of the importance of soil biology – Rachel Carson - the reduction in soil minerals since World War II - Anne-Marie Mayer has written two publications on this topic – increased use of glyphosate has resulted in huge negative impacts on human health – Pesticide Action Network - that we eat whatever toxic chemicals our food has consumed/absorbed – David Montgomery – and informed citizens demanding healthy, nutrient dense food.



B. How can the Government support this transition?


Providing/funding more training opportunities for growers/farmers to learn about ecology, soil biology, soil food web, ecosystem services as well as the multiple social, environmental and economic benefits.


Facilitating greater use of permaculture design, no-till/no-dig, key lines, holistic land management for effective whole site growing spaces, using heritage/heirloom/neglected varieties, non-GMOs, open-pollinated seeds, perennials, integrated pest management and companion planting to create abundant, diverse, edible forest gardens in different ecosystems with healthy biomes.


Ensuring greater awareness across food supply chains, from seed to plate to compost, that a focus on soil biology and biomes (soil, plant, animal or human) is essential for transmitting health across food systems.


Stopping use of feeding grain and antibiotics to livestock, focusing instead on pastured livestock and poultry for higher nutritional quality of meat, milk and eggs from soils with optimal soil biology for diverse pastures/herbal leys – Gillian Butler.


Shifting from food quantity based on yield to food quality based on nutrient density – see the work of the Bionutrient Institute in USA and Growing Real Food for Nutrition www.grffn.org in UK on crop nutrient variation.


Promoting consumption of safe, high quality, nutrient dense food (animal and plant-based) has profound effects on people’s health, both reversing and preventing diet-related noncommunicable diseases, and reducing malnutrition in all its forms – see Tim Spector and Tim Benton.


Increasing citizen awareness of the need to eat a greater diversity of nutrient dense food grown agroecologically/regenerative for improving nutrition security.


Having food processors/manufacturers report on how the food ingredients were grown.


Having policies to subsidise high quality, nutrient dense food grown in soils with optimal beneficial soil biology for the specific crop.


Linking agricultural systems to healthcare systems – see Rodale Institute - so that safe, high quality, nutrient dense food is the norm in food supply chains and public procurement for hospitals, social services, education, prisons.


Essentially, using the existing robust evidence on biological farming/agroecological food growing and not being swayed by the lobbying of Big Ag, Big Food and Big Pharma to continue business as usual, keeping soils/crops/animals/food/humans/planet unhealthy and using toxic chemicals/polypharmacy as the solution. Look at the failed Green Revolution and work of Vandana Shiva.


  1. What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination?

Rewarding agriculture/horticulture practices that improve soil biology – stopping use of toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilisers and antibiotics – ensuring pastured livestock/poultry.

Preventing new/closing large scale livestock and poultry units which use grain/soybeans and produce slurry lakes that pollute water courses.

Using microbial remediation to remove contaminants, pollutants or unwanted substances from soil or water (FAO).



February 2023