Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
The United Kingdom
Population: 66,423,777 (Worldometers, 2018)
The United Kingdom has developed a plan to direct national development within an environmental framework over the coming 25 years. The plan is presented as part of a “Green Brexit,” in which “clean growth” and national accountability are prioritized in the process of reforming agriculture, fisheries management, and environmental protections.
Progress to date:
Although the plan is too new to have produced any tangible results yet, the report details some of the UK’s environmental successes in recent years. For instance, greenhouse gas emissions have been cut 42% since 1990, and household recycling has almost quadrupled since 2000.
The plan was published on January 11, 2018.
Food policy category:
There are ten goals, most of which will have either a direct or ancillary effect on the country’s food system.
By adopting the plan, they hope to achieve:
- Clean air.
- Clean and plentiful water.
- Thriving plants and wildlife.
- A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought.
- Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently.
- Enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment.
In addition, they will manage pressures on the environment by:
- Mitigating and adapting to climate change.
- Minimising waste.
- Managing exposure to chemicals.
- Enhancing biosecurity.
How it works:
As the plan consists of a comprehensive set of tools for protecting and improving the country’s natural environment over the next quarter of a century, its reach is quite extensive. Below are some of the most significant strategies related to the nation’s food system.
The UK government seeks to improve land management. This involves designing and delivering a new environmental land management system that will rely on the principle of “the polluter pays” to incentivize sustainable agricultural practices. In April 2018, new regulations on agricultural water pollution will go into effect. Farmers will be required to identify and manage risks to water and reduce ammonia emissions, which cause acid rain and reduce soil fertility in the long run.
The plan also calls for a more sustainable approach to pest management and a more judicious use of pesticides. Specifically, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides will be further restricted, as mounting evidence shows its devastating effect on pollinating bee populations.
The government will develop a soil health index to catalog the extent of soil erosion and degradation across the country. This information can be used to promote good soil practices such as appropriate tillage, crop rotation, and the use of cover crops.
The plan includes several goals related to the reduction or elimination of waste. For instance, it aims to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of food and drinks consumed in the UK as well as per capita food waste by 20% by 2025. It has also pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, one-fifth of which comes from food and drink packaging.
Why it is important:
In light of the myriad environmental challenges that the world faces in the 21st century, a sustainable approach is fundamental to the national development of every country. A comprehensive environmental plan can help mitigate ecological disaster.
A report by the FAO and the Water, Land and Ecosystems program led by the International Water Management Institute shows that 38% of bodies of water in the EU are threatened by agricultural pollution. Polluted bodies of water suffer from reduced biodiversity and can have grave effects the health of nearby human populations.
According to the FAO, one-third of the earth’s agricultural land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, and chemical pollution of soils. However, this process is not irreversible, and steps can be taken to restore soil’s fertility.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the UK manufacturing and retail sector wastes 1.9 million tons of food and drink every year, 1.1 million tons of which is avoidable. The vast majority of this food enters landfills where it rots, creating greenhouse gas emissions. New Scientist reports that much of the UK’s plastic waste ends up in the Arctic, where it can be ingested by marine animals.
Point of Contact:
Michael Gove – Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Several countries have adopted “Green Plans,” in collaboration with the Resource Renewal Institute, including the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Singapore, and New Zealand. Other comprehensive environmental plans have been adopted by Kenya, Pakistan, Italy, and Bulgaria.