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Reprogramming the food system
Seeing Food Through a Multi-Criteria Lens
Starting Points
Logo, Planting value in the food system

Our Vision for a Fairer Food System 

Exploring ideas for policies, principles and legislation that can lead towards a sustainable plant-based food system

illustration of tractor
illustration of tractor

Reprogramming the food system

The food system affects all aspects of our lives; it’s a key determinant of health, a major driver of climate change and habitat loss, a large sector of the economy and source of employment, and also a repository of deeply held social and cultural values.

Our current food system is unhealthy, unsustainable, and unfair. It is over-reliant on overseas producers; with poor health impacts spread unequally through society; a destructive environmental inheritance; a continued and unsustainable use of animals; and a system which does not fairly reward the majority of those who work within it.

To fix the problems in the food system, we need a coherent food policy that addresses all of these issues, and measures success against these multiple criteria. This research, along with our legislative proposals, lays out our vision for achieving this aim, and invites people to look at food system change through our lens – of fairness and freedoms for animals too.

illustration of chick pea plant with arrows turning around it

Seeing Food Through a Multi-Criteria Lens

Our proposals to transform the food system are inspired by a systems-led approach to policy development, food system challenges, and on-farm transformations.

Some of our key principles for this work:

  1. Food policy needs social values embedded within it, and coherent linkages with economics, health, and environment policy across all government and policy-making bodies.
  2. Food policy needs to improve the experiences of farmers and food producers. These are people who respect the complexity of nature and food, and understand the nuances needed for fair, sustainable policies. 
  3. Animals are everywhere in our food systems – under, around and above, in the natural environment, soils, air and waters, as well as in our fields and sheds.  We need to fully perceive and honour these facts and these animals.
  4. There are many public goods, and there is great public value, in making our Great Food Transformation to be towards a fully plant-based food system.

Starting Points

The legislative agenda we propose is based upon a sustainable food system model using such a multi-criteria approach, taking as our starting point four areas for assessment: health, economy and just work, climate change and ecosystems, social and cultural values – all seen through a lens of animal equity.

Animal Equity

For The Vegan Society, a truly fair, sustainable food system requires, at the very least, ending animal ownership under historic property rights and their release from their pre-determined deaths in the food system.

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illustration of cow, pig and sheep
In an average month in the UK, we slaughter around 2.1 million cattle, pigs and sheep for human consumption.
illustration of chicken
80 million chickens, 4.4 million ‘boiling fowl’, and nearly a million turkeys and ducks are killed by us for food each month.
clock marking out one minute and highlighting 35
Nearly 90 million land animals per year – 35 every second of every day – are killed by underpaid food sector workers in abattoirs.
cow ear with cattle tag
How animals are used is not the central issue for us, but that they are used and their deaths are pre-determined within a process that sees animals as property.
seven skulls, one being tied to a hamburger
Poor diet is responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK, on a par with smoking.
pie chart with a third marked with illustration of an obese person
Nearly a third of all UK adults and 20% of children are classed as obese. The prevalence of obesity is almost twice as high in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.
pie chart, half has illustrations of vegetables
Just half of British adults get their ‘five-a-day’ of fruit and vegetables. 85% of secondary school children are not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
map of UK with ready meal and instant noodles
In the UK we eat more ‘ultra-processed’ food (high in fat, salt and sugar) than every other EU country for which there is enough data to compare.
illustration of one in eight and one in six
One in eight 21-to-34 year olds, and one in six 16-to-20 year olds, say they eat fast food at least twice a day.


The problem is not that the UK is poor and cannot afford healthful food, but that we have created an unequal and unfair food system, with levels of inequality growing wider in both health and income.

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Economy & Just Work

We believe it is the job of government to get fair, nutritious food on our tables. The question is not if government must act, but how.

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illustration of tractor driving fast down a falling bar chart
Defra and The National Audit Office estimated that 40% of farms would make a loss without the EU subsidy .
illustration of plant, beer and a hand with just one pound in it
Nearly 40% of people in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 60% of people in the food services sector are in low paid jobs.  
illustration of cow's head and soy beans
Up to 60% of prime arable land is used to produce crops, of which between a quarter and a third are fed to the 900 million animals farmed each year.  
illustration of apple with 1% written next to it
Horticulture uses just 1% of agricultural utilized area and only 1% of subsidies go to horticulture. Only 16% of fruit consumed in the UK is grown here.
illustration of sheep with a green house gas cloud
The UK agriculture sector is responsible for nearly one tenth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, much of which comes from farming cattle and sheep. 
illustration of big cloud of CH4 and small cloud of CO2
The majority of UK agriculture’s emissions are not carbon dioxide but methane from ruminant animals
illustration of carbon molecules and the lettering 40-60%
Intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose 40-60% of their organic carbon, while soil degradation in the UK has been calculated to cost £1.2bn every year.
illustration of hedgehog a squiggly arrow down and with the lettering 60%
In the last 50 years, almost 60% of species of UK wildlife such as starlings, hedgehogs and pine martens have declined
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A quarter of native UK non-human mammals are now at threat of extinction.

Climate Change and Ecosystems

Our global ecosystem is under great stress, much of this due to animal agriculture. Emissions from beef are up to 100 times greater than from plant-based alternatives such as lentils or beans. But that is not to say ‘meat’ from other animals is better, with the ‘best’ or lightest impacts of animal agriculture still worse for the planet than the ‘worst’ plant-based products.

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Social and Cultural Value

Social and cultural values will have to change if we are to support farmers and reprogramme our food system in ways that are safe, long-lasting and sustainable.

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illustration of leather boots
We rationalize that animal products are “natural, normal...
illustration of eggs and milk
necessary and nice"...
illustration of a raw steak
while believing the myth that it’s difficult to obtain protein from plants,...

Our Legislative Proposals

Change in our food system is already happening. Our proposals offer some next steps on this transformative path.

We propose:

  1. A National Food Sustainability Council to be urgently formed, to oversee the principles, joined-up policies and binding targets needed to transform our food system, reporting directly to a Joint Food Sustainability Committee for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This Council could be the ‘new independent body’ described in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy: Part 1.
  2. A UK Food Sustainability Bill, embedding our global commitments such as the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, alongside our health, economic, ecosystem and social goals. This will include a timeline to animal and climate justice, with binding steps in reducing our consumption of animals.
  3. A Well-being of Future Generations Bill in the following Parliament, to align England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with Wales.  This will enable all the governments to act in concert on sustainable development, environment, food, land use, climate and health, in terms of future needs.
  4. Beyond 2030, we foresee social shifts that will enable a UK End of Animal Slaughter Bill to phase out property rights over animals. This will grant ‘domesticated’ animals full, supported and stewarded lifespans, free from pre-determined deaths.

Some further policy recommendations include: 

  1. A UK Future Food System Risk Assessment process, to ensure that we are properly tracking hazards and mitigating dangers threatening the equity, health and sustainability of our food. 
  2. Consistent leadership in fair, sustainable food. Every food policy and practice in the UK modelling fair, sustainable practices that will benefit the global food community
  3. Plant-based by default: Plant-based meals and dishes to be the default option on all menus in public and private organisations from Parliamentary restaurants and hospital catering to company canteens. 
  4. A Plant-Based Transition Commissioner to oversee the necessary interlinked social, cultural and economic shifts towards a fair, sustainable arable and horticulture-led, plant-based food system. 

Download the reports:

Our Vision for a Fairer Food System.
Part One: Our Vision
Part Two: The Research
Policy Briefing
icon for 2030 food sustainability bill with map of uk and an assortment of vegetablesicon for 2025 wellbeing of future generations bill with illustration of children holding handsicon for Beyond 2030 end to animal slaughter bill with illustration of cow in a heart


an illustration of the timeline starting with the 2023 Food Sustainability Bill, moving on to 2025 Wellbeing of Future Generations bill and ending with the Beyond 2030 End to Animal Slaughter Bill

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  1. DEFRA, Latest Cattle, Sheep and Pig Slaughter Statistics back to text
  2. Poultry World, KFC: Findings of Chicken Welfare Audit UK and Ireland, Poultry World, 3 August 2020 back to text
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