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The clock is ticking on the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation

The clock is ticking

The clock is ticking on the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on future farming policy. Next week the Government will begin to formalise the policies and payments that will shape food production in the UK for the next generation. This provides a rare opportunity to ensure that we’re farming in ways that benefit human health.

As the NHS sinks under the weight of dietary ill-health and the threat on antimicrobial resistance grows more severe, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss as the health of our country and of our green and pleasant land depends on it.

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There's so much more to say on health

It is frustrating, therefore, that the ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation has, frankly, bugger all to say about human health. Lip service is paid to the need to reduce farm antibiotic use and to the possibility that access to green spaces might benefit our wellbeing, but there is so much more to it than this.

Consider that Britain has the most ‘ultra-processed’ diet in Europe and fruit and vegetables could become less affordable for British households post-Brexit. Shouldn’t the Government be looking at how to make fresh, minimally processed and healthy foods more accessible and more affordable and on every kitchen table?

Agricultural payments should be linked to public health outcomes. The Government appears to be keen on the ‘public money for public goods’ principle, but it has, so far, failed to recognise public health as a public good. It is vital that it does so, for this could incentivise a range of vital changes to farming practice, from increasing veg production to reducing antibiotic usage, to getting school children out onto farms and into green spaces.

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Support for British farmers

The Government also spends hundreds of millions of pounds every year buying food from abroad to serve in schools and hospitals and other public places. Why isn’t this money being used to support British farmers, particularly those producing to high quality standards, such as organic? Shouldn’t the Government be harnessing the full power of public procurement to stimulate demand for healthier foods, such as fruit & veg, pulses, wholegrains and better quality meat, and at the same time support the British farmers that we rely on?

As Policy Director of the Soil Association I have a unique perspective on this. The Soil Association works with farmers, organic and non-organic, to support farmers to innovate and find solutions to the challenges they face. We are also commissioned by doctors and public health teams to change the way that Britain eats. These are two sides of the same coin, but the Government is failing to recognise that.

Whilst the Soil Association does not claim to have all the answers the attached paper clearly sets out how we believe the reorientation of agricultural policy and practice can support healthier diets and improve public health.

There is still time to stop-the-clock on our declining public health by empowering farmers to join the battle for a healthier Britain. Failure to do so will exacerbate the pressures already on the NHS, entrench already dire diet inequalities, and create not ‘health and harmony’ but worsening ill-health and social disharmony. With less than a week to go I urge anyone who believes farmers should be supported to help us stay healthy to respond to the consultation. This is a rare opportunity to rewrite a gloomy future. The time is now.

Make Your Voice Heard

In February, Defra launched the consultation paper, Health and Harmony: The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit. Responding to the consultation could be a once in a generation opportunity to shape farming policy. 

We've put together a handy guide on how you can respond, as well as listing all of our key points that we're making. Please do feel free to use these in your own response. 

Find out how to respond