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Can the way we use land improve our health?

Can we improve people’s health by changing the way we use our land? “Land to Mouth”, ( a new report from the Rural Economy and Land Use programme (Relu) suggests that by taking a new look at land use we could also produce food that is both healthier and safer.

Relu is a £24 million interdisciplinary research programme into the challenges facing rural areas today, funded by the UK research councils, with additional funding from Defra and the Scottish Government.

The report explores three main themes:

•Can the way we use land make our food healthier and safer?

•Can consumers help the environment?

•Is a healthy and environmentally friendly diet compatible with innovation and sustainable business?

“Land to Mouth” investigates the role of government and how policy could contribute to how we use our land to produce food and as an environmental asset. It draws on research carried out in the first wave of Relu projects, all concerned with aspects of the food chain.

Policy implications from the research include:

•Regional health and development agencies could work together to promote seasonal “five a day” choices which would benefit the environment as well as health and the VAT system could be linked directly with healthy eating.

•Improving production systems would have significant effects on the nutritional quality of foods – quality assurance schemes that take this into account could be beneficial.

•As food chains become more complex there is a need for more transparency about risks and the sources of ingredients.

•More support for food production and marketing that also enhances biodiversity, such as salt marsh lamb, and for novel systems such as farming warm water fish indoors, would have benefits for health and for the environment.

Professor Philip Lowe, Director of Relu, said: “Many people today feel out of touch with the land. But the link between rural land and the food we eat is, of course, fundamental to our very existence. There may be ways in which policy can key into that interdependence and benefit both our well being and our environment.

“For example, many people like to eat local food, but we are just beginning to understand the complexity of food miles and to see that local production cannot be the whole answer. Eating foods in season is equally important.

“We strive for a healthy diet, and are told to eat more fish, but how can that be balanced with conserving wild fish stocks? Fish farming hasn’t had a good press recently either, but could we do this differently?

“Would changes to the tax system encourage consumption of healthier foods? Or would it be more effective to manipulate the foods people do eat, to make them healthier? And what about food scares and the risks in the food chain? These are all issues that Relu is starting to explore in ‘Land to Mouth’.”

Anne Liddon | alfa
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