With an election fast approaching, what are UK parties promising when it comes to food and farming? Perhaps more importantly, what’s missing?

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The urgency for action is undeniable. Our food systems face unprecedented challenges. Escalating climate and nature crises threaten food production, while the COVID-19 pandemic and global conflicts have exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains and impacted commodity flows. Farmers are protesting not only diminishing economic prospects, but also unfair power dynamics in the industry that limit their ability to negotiate fair prices and conditions. Meanwhile, rising food insecurity is exacerbating health inequalities and diet-related illnesses.

These challenges paint a grim picture, and the reality is that our food systems are under immense pressure from all sides. Yet still, these compounding issues continually fly under the radar of our decision-makers. The party manifestos offer hints but little detail about what they plan to deliver and none propose an integrated approach to food systems decision-making. The next UK government has a significant opportunity—and responsibility—to tackle these interconnected challenges head-on and deliver the transformative change our food systems desperately need.

The good news is that there is growing consensus among experts, stakeholders, and the public on the need for comprehensive food systems reform. Diverse voices—from farmers and food businesses to health professionals and environmental groups—are calling for a coherent strategy and integrated policies that can deliver benefits for people and the planet.

I previously shared my manifesto of policy must-haves for transforming the UK’s food system, which spans sustainable farming, access to healthy food, creating healthy food environments, and establishing transparent and integrated approaches to food policymaking and practices.

Based on those must-haves, I now take stock of what the seven major parties in England, Scotland and Wales are offering (the unique political context of Northern Ireland makes direct comparison challenging, so this article focuses on the three UK nations mentioned). Through this I explore how the next UK government can accelerate transformation, highlighting key areas for action. With bold leadership, systemic approaches, cross-sectoral collaboration, and public support, the UK can become a global leader in creating a food system fit for the 21st century.

What support do the parties promise for our food systems?

With the UK general election on the horizon, the future of our food systems is a pressing concern. Are the political parties prepared to meet critical challenges head-on and deliver the necessary reforms?

Prioritise sustainable and resilient farming and land use

Our approach to farming and land use is a central pillar of food systems governance. This includes promoting food production methods that increase the domestic supply of sustainable, nourishing foods and supporting farmers and rural communities.

The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all committed to streamlining post-Brexit environmental subsidy schemes, promising less-bureaucratic processes open to all producers. Labour and the Green Party go furthest on environmental protection, pledging to promote sustainable farming practices and nature recovery through conservation initiatives and more tree planting. Plaid Cymru emphasises the need for a just transition for rural economies, promoting green jobs and sustainable development initiatives that align with Wales’ net-zero targets.

Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems, and Greens also generally agree that a land use framework is needed to balance agricultural land requirements with other priorities such as conservation, housing, and energy generation. This agreement reflects a growing recognition of the complex demands on UK land resources.

Notably, the Greens stand out in their intention to expand horticulture. By aiming to build more resilient supply chains and increase year-round access to fresh produce, the party directly addresses the long-running vulnerabilities stemming from high fruit and vegetable imports.

The SNP is notably silent on sustainable farming practices, although they call for more consistent funding support for farmers. Reform UK’s threats to scrap Net Zero pledges, and a proposal to end climate-related farming schemes, could take us a major step backwards.

Ensure everyone has access to healthy and affordable food

Access to sufficient nourishing and affordable food is crucial for public health and wellbeing. However, food insecurity in the UK has been rising steadily, making this a critical issue for the next government to address.

The parties’ approaches to this challenge vary significantly. The Lib Dems have made a concrete commitment regarding school meals, pledging to extend free school meals to an estimated 900,000 children living in poverty who are currently ineligible. They’ve also expressed an intention to expand this further if finances allow. The Greens have gone even further, promising universal free school meals and access to free breakfast clubs for children up to year 6 (ages 10–11). In Wales, where all primary school children already receive free school meals, Plaid Cymru has committed to extending this to all secondary school children (ages 11–16). However, neither the Greens nor Plaid Cymru have detailed how their policies would be funded.

Notably, other crucial measures to ensure food access are largely absent from party manifestos. There’s no mention of the School Fruit and Vegetable scheme or the Healthy Start allowance from any party. Only the Greens have included improvements to food education, which could support longer-term improvements in diets.

Addressing the broader issue of food affordability, both the Lib Dems and Greens have committed to making food and other essentials more affordable through adjustments to Universal Credit and raising the minimum wage. Plaid Cymru and the SNP have committed to a minimum support level, and crucially, to remove the two-child limit on Universal Credit payments. The Conservatives, Labour, and Reform UK have not made specific commitments in these areas.

Create healthy and sustainable food environments

Our food environments should support options that are better for our health and for the planet. In this area, the parties show some common ground but also significant differences in their ambitions and approaches.

The three main parties commit to restricting junk food advertising for children, a pledge previously made but not yet enacted by the current government. The Lib Dems go a step further, proposing to restrict outdoor advertising of junk food, too. This approach, already being adopted by some local governments, could benefit from national-level implementation.

The Conservatives, Labour, Reform, and Plaid Cymru have committed to supporting domestic food producers through increased public procurement of locally grown food. The Conservatives and Labour have also notably pledged to ensure that food served by the public sector meets higher environmental standards. Yet none of the parties have provided detailed policy approaches for achieving these goals, leaving questions about implementation unanswered.

Although they don’t mention procurement policies, the Greens stand out with their proposal to encourage more local food partnerships and set up a Local Food Enterprise Fund.

The SNP, while addressing broader issues like the cost of living and health services—with an emphasis on reversing cuts to public spending and improving household finances—do not provide specific commitments on creating healthier and more sustainable food environments.

Establish transparent, fair, and integrated approaches throughout the food system

Structural changes in food and farming governance are crucial for shaping a healthier, fairer and more environmentally sustainable food system.

Here, the Lib Dems make the most comprehensive proposals. They’ve committed to implementing mandatory public reporting by food companies on health and sustainability metrics, a measure that would level the playing field and improve transparency. Along with Plaid Cymru, they also propose to expand the powers and resources of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to address unfair pricing practices and contract terms for suppliers, aiming to create a fairer supply chain.

The Greens have demonstrated the most systemic approach to food and farming issues. Their manifesto tackles these topics with a broader, more integrated perspective than other parties. And on the critical issue of cross-departmental coordination, only the Lib Dems and Greens have explicitly called for reviving the National Food Strategy, which has been largely abandoned by the current government. This strategy could provide a framework for a more cohesive approach to food policy across different government departments.

In contrast, the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, and Reform UK have been notably silent on these governance issues. None of these parties have put forward specific proposals for improving transparency or fairness in the food system, leaving a significant gap in their food policy platforms.

Inclusive governance is a missing ingredient in food system reform

While the party manifestos offer various policy proposals to support food system transformation, they overlook a crucial issue: inclusive governance. The way we make decisions about our food and farming future is just as important as the decisions themselves.

For too long, food policy-making has been dominated by a narrow set of interests, largely excluding the voices of those most affected by food system challenges. To build a truly resilient, sustainable, and equitable food future, the next UK government must prioritise inclusive food governance that effectively engages and empowers people to participate in shaping the policies that affect them.

To address this, the next UK government should start by prioritising two key areas:

  • First, multi-stakeholder participation should be at the forefront of food policy-making. This means establishing formal mechanisms for a diverse array of farmers, food businesses, civil society organisations, and communities to engage in the process. This could include regular forums, working groups, and consultative bodies that bring together diverse perspectives, ensuring that policies are informed by a wider range of experiences and expertise.
  • Empowering marginalised voices is another crucial aspect of inclusive governance. The next UK government should actively work to amplify the perspectives of groups historically excluded from food policy discussions, such as small-scale farmers, food workers, and disadvantaged communities. This could involve funding leadership development programmes and community organising initiatives focused on food system issues, helping to build capacity and ensure that all voices are heard in the policy-making process.

By embracing inclusive governance, the UK can generate new ideas, drawing on diverse wisdom, build public trust, and develop more effective and equitable food policies. This approach would complement and strengthen the specific policy proposals outlined earlier, ensuring that the transformation of the UK food system is truly responsive to everyone’s needs and aspirations.

We need a more integrated and inclusive approach

A review of the seven main party manifestos reveals a continuation of the fragmented landscape of food and farming policies in the UK, with a key missing ingredient. While some parties offer more comprehensive plans in certain areas, none present the truly integrated food systems approach that will bring the change needed. Climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, and diet-related ill health demand a more holistic response.

The UK is at a crossroads. The costs of inaction grow daily, but so does the momentum for change. We can continue with the fragmented policies on offer or seize the opportunity to become a global leader in sustainable, equitable food systems. To do this, the next government must develop a truly integrated food policy that addresses our interconnected challenges.

This will require political will, public support, and unprecedented collaboration. It will require a clear vision of how a coherent approach to food policy can be achieved in a time of economic constraint—indeed, greater coherence would likely bring economic benefits. And it will require a commitment to listening to the many voices who have offered innovative and highly sensible ideas. True integration means embracing inclusive governance to ensure all voices contribute to shaping our food future for people and planet. The next UK government has a historic opportunity to lead this transformation. Let’s seize this moment and get to work!

I write about the future of food and the connections between our food systems, the environment and public health. Sign up for my newsletter.

This post can also be read on the Food Ethics Council website.

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