A U-turn on the Government’s pledge to produce a horticulture strategy has left the sector ‘disappointed’ and ‘appalled’.

Defra had promised to deliver the horticulture strategy as part of the Government’s National Food Strategy, but an answer given by Mark Spencer, Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, to a recent Parliamentary Question confirmed a withdrawal of plans.

The news comes amid ‘multiple serious issues for the sector’, according to the Soil Association, whose head of food policy, Rob Percival, comments: “U-turning on the commitment to fix our broken food system with a horticulture strategy is a betrayal of both British growers and shoppers.

“Our shoppers are facing empty shelves, whilst our farmers and growers are struggling with fuel and electricity costs, labour shortages and dangerously low profits, and many are considering throwing in the towel.

“Droughts overseas and a delayed growing season in the UK threaten major food shortages. If we don’t act, things could get worse.

“These problems are solvable – we want to see UK fruit and veg production doubled to support British growers and healthy diets.

“To do that we need policy that joins the dots between these issues, which the Government is refusing to do.”

This is an appalling backwards step

‘At a time when the sector is on its knees’ says food activism alliance Sustain, ‘Defra have decided not to support growers and the horticulture sector in a joined up approach’.

Sustain’s head of farming, Vicki Hird, urges Defra to reconsider: “This is an appalling backwards step given the huge need for coherent and cross departmental action on production and consumption of sustainable fruit and vegetables.

“The gains would be enormous for public health, for the environment and nature with more diverse and sustainably grown produce, for good jobs and enterprise in new business.

“We urge Defra to rethink and develop a comprehensive strategy for the vital, and struggling, sector covering key areas including supply chain fairness, agroecological production support, training and skills, worker issues and energy costs, the development of better routes to market, and a marketing and healthy eating policy.”