This week, leading farm animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming wrote to the Prime Minister and to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, Rt Hon George Eustice MP, urging the Government to take urgent action to address the devastating impact of rising food prices and escalating food insecurity issues.
The letter stresses that once the current crisis in which some people are going hungry is resolved, the Government must take far reaching measures to help people move away from unhealthy diets generated by the junk food crisis.
Peter Stevenson OBE, Chief Policy Advisor at Compassion in World Farming said, “We have a food system that does the opposite of what it is meant to do: it makes us unhealthy. Poor diet is now a major cause of disease and mortality in the UK”.
In the UK, the poorer people are, the worse their diet, and the more diet-related diseases they suffer from. Compassion’s letter sets out a range of measures that would help those on low incomes to eat better and so improve their health.
It stresses the need to increase the quality of public food available to consumers – for example in schools and hospitals – to help create a shift towards nutritious food which is produced to higher animal welfare and environmental standards. This can be done without raising costs. An important component of tackling increasing poor dietary health is a reduction in the consumption of red and processed meat as high consumption levels of such meat can contribute to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers.
Support is also needed for business models that link farmers much more directly to consumers, particularly those in the poorest areas, allowing consumers to buy fresh, local, humanely produced food at lower prices and farmers to receive a greater share of the income generated by their produce.
Just as consumers are under pressure from rising food prices, farmers are facing soaring prices for fertilisers and cereals used as animal feed. Calculations based on Defra figures show that 54% of UK cereals are used to feed farm animals.
Lower meat and dairy consumption would reduce the volume of cereals needed as animal feed. It would also free up large amounts of land currently used to grow cereals for feed; this would enable the UK to switch to regenerative forms of farming which use only minimal amounts of costly fertilisers. Reducing the use of cereals as feed and minimising fertiliser use is vital in light of the surging price of wheat, maize and fertilisers.
Stevenson added, “The Government must act urgently to address the current food crisis affecting people on low incomes so severely, as well as working to help people shift to healthy diets in the longer term. We need to create a sustainable food system that benefits people, animals, and the planet and is less dependent on grain and fertiliser imports and oriented to a healthier diet with reduced meat and more plant-based British production.”