Sustainable Food System

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With the outgoing government’s Food and Farming plan further delayed by the election process, there is still no clear indication of any policies that will progress the UK to a more sustainable food system, one that encompasses the aspects of social, environmental and economic sustainability. The complexity of the food system means that a ‘systems’ (or ‘joined up’) approach is necessary if effective policy responses are to be developed by business and government. Then need is great; growing environmental pressures, including climate change, soil degradation, disruption of water cycles, expanding pathogen ranges and increasing regularity of extreme weather events, coupled with population growth and migration impact on and will continue to affect the food system.

What the main party manifestos say about it


The manifesto states that the party will:

  • Actively support international negotiations towards an Environmental Goods Agreement at the WTO (as part of a commitment to a low-carbon future)
  • Establish a science innovation fund, working with farmers and fisheries
  • Develop a cross-government strategy for ensuring the Sustainable Development Goals are implemented, and report annually to Parliament on our performance.
  • Set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste


The manifesto states that the party will:

  • Continue to use our aid budget in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (to end extreme poverty, save children’s lives, and provide an education for girls)
  • Set up new frameworks for supporting food production and stewardship of the countryside.
  • Work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts across Britain and with the devolved administrations to devise a new agri-environment system, to be introduced in the following parliament
  • Produce a comprehensive 25 Year Environment Plan that will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again
  • Continue to take a lead in global action against climate change

Liberal Democrats:

The manifesto states that the party will:

  • Maintain (EU environmental) standards in UK law
  • Pass a Zero-Carbon Britain Act to set new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050.
  • Support the Paris agreement by ensuring the UK meets its own climate commitments and plays a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change.
  • Expand renewable energy…and…Support investment in cutting-edge (environmental) technologies
  • Support an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme…for delivering clean industrial growth.
  • Rebalancing (farming) away from direct subsidy and refocusing support towards producing healthy food and public benefits that come from effective land management including countryside protection, flood prevention, food production and climate-change mitigation.
  • Introduce a national food strategy to promote the production and consumption of healthy, sustainable and affordable food.
  • Pass a Zero-Waste Act, including legally binding targets for reducing net consumption of key natural resources, and introducing incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency.
  • Benefit consumers by promoting better product design to improve repairability, reuse and recycling.
  • Establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2022.
  • Building on…(the) plastic bag charge, introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to reduce waste.
  • Establish a Cabinet Committee on Sustainability, establish an Office for Environmental Responsibility to scrutinise the government’s efforts to meet its environmental targets, and place a responsibility on every government agency to account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets in everything it does.

What IFST is doing about it

IFST has published a report on Sustainable Food Systems, which provides a framework for future activities and partnerships, to focus our efforts in what is an extremely large topic area. We recognise the valuable ongoing work by many organisations in this area and wish to engage where we can add the most value. If you or your organisation is interested in partnering with us in any of the areas discussed in the report, please contact John Bassett (

The report and more on our policy on a Sustainable Food System is available here.

IFST has signed the Courtauld Agreement initiated by WRAP and is committed to supporting WRAP in the activities that are progressing under this agreement. 

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