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The UK is lagging behind on sustainable agriculture due to the lack of a farming policy that deals with climate change, experts have warned.

The UK ranked 10th out of 34 countries in the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), which was published today by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN). The index uses 58 indicators to measure performance across food waste and loss, sustainable agriculture and nutrition.

On sustainable agriculture, the UK ranked 20th behind countries like Ethiopia, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Argentina and Colombia after scoring zero out of 100 on climate change mitigation, because the UK does not have a dedicated national agriculture policy that deals with climate change.

It also scored poorly on agricultural subsidies and the diversification of agricultural systems, though it ranked first for the only farm animal welfare indicator used in the FSI - the ‘quality of animal welfare regulation’.

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Elsewhere, the UK performed better on food waste and loss, ranking seventh out of 34 countries after achieving a high score for its policy response to food waste - though it was let down by a lack of solutions to distribution-level losses. It came in eighth place on nutritional challenges, with red flags raised on over-nourishment and the number of fast food restaurants per person.

However, it was the third worst performing country overall out of the ten European countries in the 2017 FSI, ahead only of Russia and Greece. It scored “badly” on crucial indicators like childhood obesity rates, exclusive breastfeeding rates, healthy life expectancy and climate change action, according to analysis by the Food Ethics Council.

“What is clear is that the UK is not currently a global leader on good food, farming and the environment - and not even in the leading pack,” said Dan Crossley, executive director of the UK Food Ethics Council.

“However, it can be. The UK government must show real global leadership - at a critical time for the UK’s future - and take responsibility for the often-hidden impacts of our food, at home and abroad. We want the UK to be known for high food standards and supporting everyone to eat well, including those on low incomes.”

Global leadership

For the second year running, France took the top spot overall on the FSI. Japan, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, South Korea and Hungary also performed well, while the US came in 21st place after scoring very poorly on sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges.

“The FSI allows researchers and policy makers to identify where and how to intervene to solve some of the biggest paradoxes affecting the global food system: hunger versus obesity, waste versus starvation, and food production versus fuel production,” said Guido Barilla, president of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation.

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It comes after the government last week revealed ambitions to put the UK “at the forefront of advanced sustainable agriculture” as part of its new industrial strategy.

It plans to develop a “farm to fork” agriculture policy based on more efficient farming and will establish a Food Sector Council to establish the UK as a “global leader in sustainable, affordable, safe and high-quality food and drink”. the strategy document revealed.

Last month, environment secretary Michael Gove opened a £40m grant scheme to help farmers invest in efficient new technology, having previously pledged that future subsidies would be targeted at environmentally friendly farms under his ‘Green Brexit’ plans.