Following the end of Defra's ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on future farming policy, government will begin to formalise the policies and payments that will shape food production in the UK for the next generation.

Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association said: "This provides a rare opportunity to ensure we’re farming in ways that benefit human health. As the NHS sinks under the weight of dietary ill-health and the threat of resistance to antibiotics grows more severe, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss as our health, as well as the health of our countryside depends on it.

"It is frustrating, therefore, that the ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation has, frankly, bugger all to say about human health. No clear actions are proposed. The need to reduce farm antibiotic use gets a mention, as does the possibility that access to green spaces might benefit our wellbeing, but there is so much more to it than this.

"Consider that Britain has the most ‘ultra-processed’ diet in Europe and fruit and vegetables could become less affordable for British households post-Brexit. Shouldn’t the Government be looking at how to make fresh, minimally processed and healthy foods more accessible and more affordable and on every kitchen table?

"Agricultural payments should be linked to public health outcomes. The government is keen on the ‘public money for public goods’ principle, but it has, so far, failed to recognise public health as a public good. It is vital that it does so, for this could incentivise a range of vital changes to farming practice, from increasing veg production to reducing antibiotic usage, to getting school children out onto farms and into green spaces.

"The government also spends hundreds of millions of pounds of our money every year buying food from abroad to serve in schools and hospitals and other public places. Why isn’t this money being used to support British farmers, particularly those producing to high quality standards, such as high welfare, food that is good for wildlife, and organic? Shouldn’t the government be harnessing the full power of public procurement to stimulate demand for healthier foods, such as fruit and veg, pulses, wholegrains and better quality meat, and at the same time support the British farmers who we rely on?

"The Soil Association works with farmers, organic and non-organic, to support farmers to innovate and find solutions to the challenges they face. We are also commissioned by doctors and public health teams to change the way that Britain eats. These are two sides of the same coin, but the government is failing to recognise that.

"While the Soil Association does not claim to have all the answers, our paper sets out clearly what we think needs to be done so that agricultural policy and practice can support healthier diets and improve public health.

"There is still time to stop-the-clock on our declining public health by empowering farmers to join the battle for a healthier Britain. Failure to do so will exacerbate the pressures already on the NHS, entrench already dire diet inequalities, and create not ‘health and harmony’ but worsening ill-health and social disharmony. This is a rare opportunity to rewrite a gloomy future. With less than a week to go, I urge anyone who believes farmers should be supported to help us stay healthy to respond to the consultation."