worker picking veg farming

The government has shelved its much-vaunted 25-year food and farming plan, The Grocer can reveal.

Defra this week confirmed its proposed 25-year food and farming plan would not be published during the lifetime of the current parliament, with the department instead focusing on the “immediate and critical issues for these industries - our negotiation, transition, and readiness for day one as we leave the EU”. Defra launched a separate 25-year environment plan last month.

The industry-led food and farming plan was launched in 2015 by former environment secretary Liz Truss with the aim of increasing competitiveness across the food chain and establish the UK as “one of the most innovative food nations in the world”.

Truss met with representatives from 80 food businesses in July 2015 to share ideas on encouraging enterprise and boosting productivity, and consulted widely on its aims. However, its publication was delayed on several occasions and amid mounting uncertainty over Brexit, despite it being a Conservative Party manifesto commitment ahead of the 2015 general election.

Instead of publishing the plan, Defra said some of its objectives would be included in the government’s upcoming Agriculture Bill, due to be published in the spring.

“As announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Bill will enable us to continue to support an increasingly thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is competitive, productive and profitable. We intend to consult widely with a broad range of interested stakeholders ahead of the Bill’s introduction, and look forward to hearing from the food and farming sector as part of this,” said a spokeswoman.

However, City University professor of food policy Tim Lang described the government’s decision not to publish the plan as a “shocking” and “extremely worrying” development - particularly in light of No 10’s insistence yesterday that the UK would leave the EU customs union after Brexit.

“I’m surprised it isn’t going to publish anything because the pressure coming on top of the government from the retail, food manufacturing and farming sectors about what is the future and what is the plan is astonishing,” he said.

Dereliction of government duty

“It’s a dereliction of government duty when they are wanting to take us out of the EU, and saying no to any customs union, and a further sign Brexit is a real deviation from what the industry needs.”

There was a “clear need” to see a long-term approach to food and farming by government, added NFU head of food and farming Phil Hambling.

“The NFU led calls for a 25-year food and farming plan to outline how the UK can grow more, buy more and sell more British food,” he added. “Leaving the EU means this is more important than ever. Long-term strategic issues such as ensuring competitive, safe and secure food supply chains, fair terms of trade and business profitability must be considered across a long timeframe.”

While a delay to the publication of the plan was expected by many industry stakeholders, with some questioning the quality of unpublished drafts, there remained the “need for a joined up food strategy” said Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council.

“Having a long-term plan is better than not having one,” he added. “I recognise there’s a lot of uncertainty around Brexit, but it’s still possible to set bold and ambitious goals even if it is light on detail of how you’re going to get there. The 25-year environment plan has links to food, but doesn’t get into health, animal welfare and social justice issues.”

Partick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, was less concerned, however, suggesting the government’s Agriculture Bill would offer greater clarity to the food and farming sector.

“If this package delivers what Michael Gove has been suggesting it will, then that will be a groundbreaking document that will set the tone for the next 25 years. And I guess Defra’s food and farming plan could eventually put more flesh on that. But my interest is in getting the first phase right before we move on to the second.”