Government must better protect soils for true UK food security

Government must better protect soils for true food security

The government has failed to make significant progress in its response to an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee inquiry into soil health.

The inquiry by EFRA looked at the government’s role in halting the degradation of soils across England and made a series of recommendations.

In evidence sessions as part of the inquiry, the Soil Association reiterated the importance for soil to be given the same protection as water, air and nature.

This was one of the recommendations made by the committee, but it has not been actioned in the government response that was published this week.

The EFRA committee itself has commented to express disappointment at the "vagueness" in many areas of the government's response.

The Soil Association shares these concerns around the lack of new commitments and lack of urgency from government to save our soils.

In particular the government has failed to action recommendations from the committee to implement tangible soil health targets and to improve monitoring and enforcement around practices that are damaging soils.

Lack of urgency from UK government to save soils

Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “We depend on soil for almost all our food production and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee rightly warns that soil is vital for all life on Earth. 

"It is alarming that government has ignored this advice from the EFRA inquiry and failed to act on many recommendations including the call to better regulate harmful practices. Its response today is largely a reiteration of previous commitments and this underlines the need for a Soil Health Action Plan which was promised but never delivered.

“With millions of hectares of UK soil at risk, and much of our farmland flooded, farmers need help and a strong legal framework to change the way soil is managed. It is essential we stop practices that we know are harming soils and, as a result, food security. This will require regulation, recovery targets, and support for farmers.

"The target to bring 60% of soils under sustainable management is simply insufficient. We cannot leave almost half of this vital resource at risk. We need nature-friendly, agroecological and organic farming across all our farmland if we are to achieve EFRA’s recommendation for 90% of soils to be managed sustainably.”

The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, said: “We are glad that the Government shares our committee’s concerns regarding the challenges facing soil health in England, but we are disappointed that its response to our report is noncommittal on several important measures, leaving much open to an unclear review process. There is also a lack of clarity to be found in the Government’s response, on questions such as who will be responsible for ongoing soil monitoring once a baseline is established and how this will be funded.

“While we wanted the Government to be more ambitious in its targets, urging for over 90% of agricultural land to meet a definition of “sustainably managed” by 2040, we are disappointed that the Government has settled on a lower target in this area, without explaining why.”

Why soil is so important

We depend on soil for almost all - 95% - of our food production, so we cannot have food security without healthy soils.

Healthy topsoil is vital to our existence on this planet, but we are losing it at an alarming rate - between 10 and 40 times faster than it's formed. 

Organic farms have 20% more organic matter in their soil on average, so agroecology and organic is an evidence based solution for sustainable farming that can reverse soil degradation.

The Ten Years for Agroecology study showed that a transition in Europe to a food and farming system based on organic principles and healthy and sustainable diets could contribute a drop in agricultural emissions by 40-50% by 2050, with plenty to feed the growing population healthy diets.

Support the Soil Association's charitable work to support farmers to save their soil and to lobby government to better protect it.