Alex Freudmann

M&S Food MD Alex Freudmann argues British farmers and food manufacturers can lead the world in lower carbon food production

As an own brand business, we aim to provide exceptional quality products to our customers, underpinned with a promise – which we call Plan A – to source and make our products with care, and to look after the people who grow and make our food.

Our farmers and food manufacturers are a critical part of Plan A, not just to ensure we lead the market on animal welfare and food standards, but because over 70% of M&S Food’s emissions come from agriculture. So, we can’t make progress on our own journey to net zero without them.

And our farmers are working with us to innovate and trial new ways to farm, by working with nature and introducing new technology. Our Farming with Nature programme helps farmers develop nature-friendly regenerative farming practices to improve soil quality and boost natural pollinators like bees. Ten thousand hectares of M&S Select Farmers’ land is now protected and enhanced in this way and the product is fantastic.

Our partnership with Wildfarmed, which produces wheat grown using regenerative farming to protect and restore the soil, is a hit with customers. Sales of our Collection Sourdough breads, made using Wildfarmed flour, were up 86% last year.

The UK’s food industry is ‘precious’ but ‘finely balanced’

Perhaps the best example of how we work with our long-term UK Select Farmers to improve quality and sustainability is milk. We’re the only retailer to sell 100% high-welfare RSPCA Assured British milk, which comes from 40 dedicated Select Dairy Farmers with cows grazed on pasture. They are part of our milk pool created 25 years ago to ensure M&S farmers receive a fair price for their milk – based on their cost of production. Earlier this year, in a UK first, we invested £1m to reduce the carbon footprint of this milk, which will shrink the carbon impact of our fresh milk by more than 8% and remove a projected 11,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

I could point to numerous other ways in which British farmers are leading the way in producing quality food responsibly. Our food industry is precious – but finely balanced – and farmers face significant headwinds on a number of fronts; from skills shortages to the potential impact of future trade deals on the UK’s world-leading food standards – one reason we remain firm on the Better Chicken Commitment, which demands the highest standards of animal welfare. In fact, M&S is the only national retailer selling chicken raised to this standard.

A sustainable, growing and profitable British food and farming sector is not just essential for the economy, it is critical to our food security and inextricably linked to the government’s net zero targets.

British food needs a net zero plan

We need a joined-up strategy – from farm to fork – which helps our food producers adapt to change and seize the opportunities to diversify and grow. It needs to include a clear net zero plan for farming that helps farmers to produce food in a way that is profitable and sustainable: protecting land for food production while encouraging lower pesticide use, helping regenerate soil health and supporting nature and biodiversity.

We also need to help customers understand more about regenerative farming, with a clearer framework for the way benefits are measured and marketed, so they can buy with confidence, and we can engage them in the fantastic work that lies behind the products our farmers make.

Political manifestos are out, but there is little in any of them on how to sustain and grow our world-leading food and farming sector or seizing the opportunity to be at the forefront of the move to lower carbon food production. That’s why today retailers, manufacturers and food and farming groups have come together, writing to all party leaders to urge them to consider the future of food and farming as they make their case for forming the next government.

This isn’t a party political issue. Whoever forms the next government has an opportunity and a responsibility to support and champion our food and farming sector. Farming isn’t a nine-to-five job – it’s a calling – and with the right plan we can show the world how our farmers and food producers are innovating to make the highest quality food in the most sustainable way.