Supporters of a more sustainable food chain have criticised the UK government's plans to improve production over the next 20 years.

Environment secretary Hilary Benn today (5 January) launched the Government's food strategy goals for the next 20 years at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Benn told farmers that the country needs to produce more food sustainably to respond to mounting environmental challenges and to help provide food for a growing world population.

Some stakeholders, however, have slammed the UK government's strategy, insisting that, while the goals will have wide appeal, its plans to achieve the targets are not "up to the job".

The Food Ethics Council said the plans contained a lot of information about helping the market and consumers to be more efficient but argued there was not much detail about "people, power or politics".

"The irony is that a leaner, meaner food system squeezes people at the bottom of the heap - precisely those most at risk of eating unhealthily, being hurt by climate change or experiencing hunger," said executive director Dr Tom MacMillan.

Friends of the Earth's food campaigner Helen Rimmer said Benn was right to recognise the need to fix the way the UK farms but argued the Government failed to choose "the path to fair and planet-friendly food".

"We urgently need a fresh approach, but the Government has served up business as usual and failed to address the global impacts of intensive meat and dairy production. We can feed a growing population without going vegetarian or relying on factory farms, but ministers must come clean about the need to cut down on meat and dairy," Rimmer said.

On a day when UK politicians were vocal on their plans for the country's food sector, shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert criticised the government for "devaluing" agriculture.

Herbert's comments came as the Conservative Party pledged to set up a supermarket ombudsman in a bid to curb and outlaw abuses of power by retailers.

"The government's belated recognition that food security matters will have little credibility after more than a decade in which they have devalued British agriculture and allowed domestic production to decline," Herbert said.

"Ministers cannot will the end of higher food production without ensuring the means. It's not enough to talk loosely about a fair market or the need for better labelling. We need action, with a supermarket ombudsman and legislation to enforce honest labelling if the retailers won't act."

Elsewhere, the Government's plans received a guarded welcome. The National Farmers Union believes the Government's food strategy is a useful blueprint for the future of UK production but one which will need care to implement.

"This vision demonstrates that Defra has grasped the complex issues that are in play when developing a joined-up food policy and that it will provide much-needed leadership on food policy," NFU president Peter Kendall said.

"The whole food supply chain and government will need to work together to optimise productivity within an increasingly competitive framework if we are to improve the sustainability of the sector at the same time."

Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said it shared the Prime Minister's "pride" in the UK's food sector and was pleased with the recognition of its economic and strategic importance for the country.

"We have consistently called for a new Government approach that makes sustainable and competitive food production a key priority in its own right. Today's launch of the Food 2030 vision marks the start of such a process."