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News, Blogs & Press Releases » A new horticulture pledge from government: But will it bear fruit?

A new horticulture pledge from government: But will it bear fruit?

farming fruit

Cheap fruit and veg is good, if you want people to eat more of it, but at what cost to the environment and the UK’s food security is our reliance on imports? 

On Tuesday 14th May, Rishi Sunak wrestled with the question of how to support British farming, with a specific focus on the UK horticulture sector.

On the eve of this ‘Farm to Fork’ summit held at Downing Street, a gathering of farmers and food sector retailers heard Mr Sunak announce a package of measures largely designed to plug a £40m funding deficit left by Brexit, a gap that has hit British horticulture hard.

Food security in fruit and veg is important because the UK relies on other countries for 80-90% of its fruit and around 60% of veg: produce which is often imported from areas of the world most likely to be impacted by climate extremes and harvest failures. As a result, the fruit and veg we have now, may simply not be available in future. Indeed, over the past 18 months, some countries have restricted their exports to cover shortages in domestic demand, resulting in occasionally empty shelves in the UK.

At the Farm to Fork summit, the government pledged £90m of funding to rescue UK horticulture and a new approach to measuring food security. However, over half of this money is for automation in the industry (not jobs) and the plans have been criticised by food campaigners and Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, of which the Vegetarian Society is a member.

One principle criticism relates to the proposal for a new ‘Food Security Index’, which although a good idea in principle, will have limited power to gather truly meaningful data in terms of nutritional food security and price accessibility for households. Alongside this, there is no metric built in to determine whether production methods are sustainable and support nature recovery.

In short, the government plans fall well shy of the proposals put forward by the Sustain Alliance in recent years for a National Horticulture Strategy, one based on sustainable farming principles and a long-term vision of access to healthy eating for all.

On a more positive note, with price competition being one of the dominant factors in UK fruit and veg decline, one of the most significant government pledges this week was a new Agricultural Supply Chain Adjudicator. This is a role which will help oversee the enforcement of the Fair Dealing regulations and a commitment to introduce regulations to improve fairness in the fresh produce supply chain, something which the Sustain Alliance helped to secure in the 2020 Agriculture Act. 

This is critical, given that half of Britain’s fruit and veg growers say that their businesses are in peril from pitifully low farmgate prices and that farmers see just 1p of the profits per pack of produce.

In our opinion, government is still falling short in the policies needed to support greater fruit and vegetable consumption. Until ministers step back from their continued insistence on defending the meat sector, we won’t fully realise the overall benefits of a properly supported and developed UK horticultural sector, for farmers and consumers alike.

In the meantime, the Vegetarian Society will continue to push for better support for the UK fruit and veg sector, across the entire political spectrum, with our express policy aim to support the horticulture sector and to ensure UK producers receive adequate funding and prices for their produce.

See the Vegetarian Society’s guide to seasonal fruit and veg in the UK

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