This week Field held the latest event in our net zero webinar series, this time focusing on the steps needed for decarbonising the food and drink sector. There to give our audience some food for thought was our panel of industry experts: Luke Pollard, Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union; Sam Hall, Director at the Conservative Environment Network; and Emma Piercy, Head of Climate Change and Energy Policy from the Food and Drink Federation.
In recent years the industry has made significant commitments to achieving a net zero future. However, naturally, we wanted to get to the bottom to whether they feel the Government is doing enough to support them. Initial polling of the audience revealed the answer is an overwhelming no, with a mere 5% saying government efforts have been effective.
While acknowledging certain successes, the panel were generally in agreement. Minette Batters said that she wants Government to stop focusing on positive press releases, and to start focusing on positive policy, while Luke Pollard noted that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been captured by ‘dreary managerialism’.
The Government’s recent trade deal with Australia was a hot topic. The NFU has been particularly vocal about this in recent weeks, but the rest of our panel also agreed that Government needs to focus on buying British as the more we rely on food being imported, the more carbon intensive it will be. Sam Hall said that we should be focusing on ways in which we can farm sustainably in the UK, so we don’t need to rely on offshore food production.
There are definite parallels to be drawn between decarbonising the food and drink sector and the energy sector. Ultimately, it comes down to the consumer – so if we want to see any real change, they need to be won over. The question is, how does Government do that? When asked if a carrot or a stick approach would be more effective, our esteemed panel agreed that it would be the former that is likely to have the greater effect. In terms of specific interventions it was increased public education that came top in a poll of our audience. Luke Pollard called for greater measures to better inform people about the food decisions they make, and Emma Piercy said that carbon labelling on supermarket food would be an effective way of doing this.
Overall, the session made clear that the sector needs more, and bolder, commitments from Government. It cannot continue to hide behind endless press releases reiterating the Government’s commitment to their 2050 goal, without taking serious action. The industry is clearly committed to achieving net zero, but they need meaningful support to make it happen. We know government can talk the talk, but now it is time to walk the walk.