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Sustainability and UK food policy 2000 – 2011


Looking back, looking forward front coverLack of leadership from the Coalition Government in delivering the vision for a sustainable food system set out in Food 2030, the Government’s first food policy in over 50 years, coupled with the closure of the SDC.

How does this fits into Sustainable Development?

Food is at the heart of the sustainability challenge. Food production and consumption are woven through our economy, environment, and society, which are the three pillars of sustainable development. The transition from the post-war era of rationing to today’s previously unimaginable range of choice is remarkable. More people have been fed, food has become progressively cheaper, making available an unprecedented range of foods, across the seasons. Yet by no stretch of the imagination could our complex web of food supply, consumption patterns and impact be currently described as sustainable.

» Looking back, Looking Forward: Sustainability and UK food policy 2000 – 2011

Work Outline

This report reviews progress towards sustainable food policy in the UK from 2000 to 2011 – the period that reflects the lifetime of the SDC. The report identifies specific challenges and highlights priorities for action going forward.

How this project was/will be undertaken?

  • Desk-based research
  • UK-wide survey of food stakeholders carried out during November and December 2010 involving 145 experts within government, business, academia and civil society

Report Summary

The SDC urges the Government to accelerate the process of building a genuine sustainable food system and food culture. Government cannot do this on its own, any more than it could be done by other interests on their own. Global food companies alone cannot resolve climate change or dietary change, any more than can individualised consumerism. But it is only Government that has the formal democratic mandate to lead the process and provide accountability.

Who should read this?

All those with an interest in food and sustainable development.

Key findings

The Coalition Government’s plans for feed a growing population sustainably and healthily are ‘insubstantial’. Our review of the last decade shows that progress requires the hands-on participation of governments – not a ‘leave it to the market’ approach’.


  • Work with business, civil society organisations and experts to develop ambitious Delivery Plans to support the goal of creating more sustainable UK food systems by 2030
  • Prioritise reversing the decline in UK food production, helping expand vegetable crops sustainably and increasing UK fruit production
  • Enable the meat and dairy industry to reduce its reliance on grain feedstuffs to lower land use and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Work to create local food partnerships to harness local government, health authorities, community groups and local business to meet local sustainability goals
  • Increase efforts to reduce food waste, planning for zero food waste to landfill by 2015
  • Ensure practical food experience in schools including cooking skills and food growing
  • Reflect the cost of ensuring a nutritious and sustainable diet in minimum wage and benefit levels.
  • Mandate health and sustainability standards for all publicly procured food.

Significant challenges

  • Rising food inflation is again reminding Governments of the need to wean food production away from its dependency on oil
  • The need to waste less and feed growing populations while reversing biodiversity, climate change and environmental damage, requires a real practical understanding of what producing more food, sustainably, means for the UK
  • The need for new approaches to make it easier for people to eat healthily and sustainably and to enable producers and the food chain to shift to sustainable models of production, distribution and retail.

Previous work by SDC

» Food Security and Sustainability: The Perfect Fit

» Green, Healthy and Fair