Food, the gaping hole in party manifestos

Food left out of party manifestos

As the General Election takes its grip over the UK, we review the main UK party manifestos.

It is always interesting to see what makes the party manifestos, but even more telling to see what is overlooked, and it is food that continues to be a gaping hole in politics.

The Conservative Party manifesto forgot food

Their manifesto mentioned food just four times. To summarise, their priorities are to: produce high-quality food in Britain, protect it from trade deals, and improve NHS food.

The ongoing National Food Strategy appears to be endorsed, something with huge potential to link food, environment and health but risks being postponed during the next year of political shuffles.

Leaving the EU was presented as a huge opportunity for UK food and farming by the previous government, a chance for the UK to become an ‘environmental superpower’, instead this manifesto fails to paint a clear picture of life outside the EU Common Agriculture Policy.

The Liberal Democrats find slightly more time for food

Considering remaining in the EU is their headline call, the Lib Dems offer to protect farmers and food standards from being undercut by low-quality imports. They also commit to influencing EU-level policies on food, agriculture and climate.

Their Minister for Wellbeing could be a useful bridge for food policy in future, while a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources could offer a way to link food, climate and health, especially if they have a voice in the Treasury too.

Farmer harvesting crops

The Labour Party put food as a key pillar in a Green Industrial Revolution

They commit to net-zero carbon food production by 2040, creating a National Food Commission, interventions to tackle childhood obesity, and a headline grabbing commitment to end the need for foodbanks in three years.

Labour’s International aid policy provides some ideas to plug their gaps in domestic agriculture policy. Their Food Sovereignty Fund to ‘support sustainable local food and agriculture markets in the fight against climate change’ could be a good blueprint.

The Green Party goes furthest for food

They connect the dots, putting food at the heart of a Green New Deal for food, farming and forestry. Much like Soil Association, they want a ten-year transition to climate friendly (known as agroecological) farming, research councils that prioritise sustainable food production and to link school food with local producers through government buying power.

Unlike others, the Greens take on diets, proposing incentives for healthy diets, locally sourced and less but better meat and dairy. At the more controversial end they also propose a meat tax.  

organic cows in field

What do the party manifestos agree on?

There is consensus across many of these manifestos on tackling childhood obesity (albeit at different levels) and creating a legal Right to Food (our individual right to be able to eat well, and collective right to a fair and sustainable food system).

A future UK Government could look at the progress achieved in Scotland in this area, civil society can learn a lot from the tireless efforts of the Nourish Scotland project.

Connecting healthy food consumption with nature-friendly food production needs more emphasis in this election

It needs joined up policy-making to tackle the climate emergency, weakened wildlife and dietary-ill health crises together. Despite some positive signs, there are few proposals here that reflect the importance and relevance of food to all aspects of our lives.

Read a detailed summary of our election asks and questions you can ask your parliamentary candidates.