The UK needs a “radical” rethink of how it produces and consumes its food in order to continue enjoying healthy affordable food in the future, the country’s Environment Secretary said today (10 August).

The UK government has published a food security assessment, showing that the UK faces challenges to ensure the sustainability of its food supply.

The study suggested a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a changing climate here and overseas that will affect what food can be grown and where and how it can be grown.

It also highlighted the availability and effective use of water to produce food – the need to get more crop per drop – and the depletion of fish stocks.

“Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises. While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden,” said Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn. “We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.”

Benn added that the UK also needs to tackle diet-related ill health that already costs the NHS and the wider economy billions of pounds each year.

The assessment is part of a package being published today, which includes an online discussion seeking views on the future of the UK’s food system to 2030 and draft indicators for the sustainability of the food system.

Benn said there were three big challenges that needed to be met – how to meet the economic and environmental challenges of increased productivity in the food chain, how to help people eat more healthily and how to ensure that the way food is produced today doesn’t damage the natural resources on which future food production depends.

“Our food strategy will need to cover all aspects of our food – production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption and disposal. And that includes the impact on our health, on the environment and future productivity, and on how we deal with food waste,” Benn added.

A ‘food strategy for the future’ report is expected to be published later in the year, drawing on responses to the consultation launched today.