Labour sets out its 5 Priorities for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

The UK general election took place on Thursday 4 July 2024.   After 14 years in opposition, the UK’s Labour Party has won a sizeable victory at the country's General Election.

New secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs Steve Reed has unveiled 5 core priorities for his department, while Daniel Zeichner has been appointed as a minister of state.

five priorities:

  1. to clean up rivers, lakes and seas;
  2. create a roadmap to move Britain to a zero waste economy;
  3. to boost food security; and
  4. to ensure nature’s recovery and
  5. protect communities from the dangers of flooding.


  • Nature’s Recovery
  • Flooding
  • Clean up rivers, lakes and seas 

The party also pledged to introduce a land-use framework and ‘make environment land management schemes work for farmers and nature’. Previously Labour pledged to halt the decline of British species. The manifesto refers to the badger cull as ‘ineffective’ although also Reed has stated they would allow pre-existing cull licences to continue.

On trade, the party said it would publish a strategy that promotes the highest standards when it comes to food production.

In its manifesto, Labour said it would set a target for half of all food purchased across the public sector to be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards.

Labour also wants to improve responsible access to nature through the creation of nine new national river walks, three new national forests and the expansion of wetlands, peatlands and forests.

Previously, Labour has pledged to protect at least 30% of the land and sea by 2030. Reference has been made to a Labour government that would seek to reduce flood damage by increasing natural defences, such as trees and wetlands, as well as building up carbon sinks in peatlands.

What is not stated is the potential for liability to be pushed on to landowners and farmers with the potential for Environmental Officers to seek to increase testing and use the enforcement regime and criminal penalties to require clean up costs to be borne by landowners. Aimee Stokes, Senior Associate (Barrister) Mills & Reeves (Email: [email protected]) will be providing an update on the potential risks of this new priority shortly.  It certainly appears that the beleaguered water companies such as Thames Water will not be in a position to provide the required levels for any 'clean up' (Thames Water says it has enough cash until May next year - BBC News).

Waste & Carbon

  • Zero Waste Economy

This would mean the amount of waste going to landfill would be drastically reduced and raw materials including plastic, glass and minerals reused.

EPR:  The previous government published the draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging and Packaging Waste) Regulations 2024, on 2 May 2024. pEPR legislation will be brought before the UK Parliament later this year, with the aim of it coming into force by 1 January 2025.

  • Producers will be required to report the amount of packaging they place on the market.
  • This reporting will then be used to charge producers fees and pay local authorities (LA) for managing packaging waste.
  • Full draft Extended Producer Responsibility regulations have been published and can be found here.

DRS:  The Deposit Return Scheme had been postponed but the previous timeline outlined for the UK government, Welsh Government, Scottish Government and DAERA was to launch DRS in October 2027. Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers: joint policy statement - GOV.UK (

Carbon: The manifesto committed Labour to investing £1 billion from the fund to “accelerate the deployment” of carbon capture.  The fund would have a target of attracting three pounds of private investment for every one pound of public investment.

It may be that the closer relationship between the devolved administrations may well help to facilitate the roll our of these regulations and  assist in the alignment with European standards.

Food Security

Labour pledged to ‘champion British farming while protecting the environment’ and stressed that it ‘recognises that food security is national security’, a point echoed in all the main party manifestos.

Like other parties Labour also pledged to use the government’s own purchasing power to back British farmers, but additionally, by setting up ‘GB Energy’ and harnessing the power of wind, waves, solar and nuclear, to get control of energy and cut energy bills Make Britain a clean energy superpower – The Labour Party.

The previous Conservative government via 'Downing Street Summits' and consultations had promised to enact supply chain fairness regulations in the fresh produce, dairy, pig and egg sectors to ensure to ensure producers have reasonable and transparent contracts.

The Fair Dealing Obligations (Milk) Regulations 2024 (“FDOM24”) are the first use of the powers in the Agriculture Act 2020 to impose obligations on business purchasers of agricultural products in relation to contracts they make. FDOM24 will come into force in the UK today, 9 July 2024, at which point they will apply to all new contracts made for the purchase of milk from a producer. There will be a transition period of 12 months for existing agreements, after which all such contracts will need to be compliant with FDOM24 by 9 July 2025. Guidance has been published dated 8th July 2024. Fair_Dealings_Regs_Guidance.pdf (  

This ‘food security’ priority therefore suggests Labour will continue this and might even go further.

Reference is made to ‘slashing of red tape’ but at borders to get exports moving. The trans-atlantic and pacific treaties may therefore be expected to take a back seat to closer alignment with Europe.

Labour has stated their commitment to re-joining the EU Veterinary and Phytosanitary regime.  The manifesto there is a commitment to ‘seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food’.

Other issues which will remain and have been highlighted by the NFU include: pairing this with effective import controls, a more robust Seasonal Workers Scheme, investment in infrastructure and flexibility in planning.

There is also general concern on the budgetary constraints for farmers and landowners including whether Labour would include farmland in inheritance tax; whilst there is a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ that they would not raise VAT, income tax or national insurance, there is currently stated as ‘no need’ in Labour’s plans to raise additional tax.

Health, HFSS, UPF & Obesity

Labour has historically advocated for a more interventionist approach, particularly on health issues.

Before the manifesto’s publication, Labour announced its Child Health Action Plan initiative, containing a number of measures to improve children’s well-being. The plan included a pledge to ban drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre from sale both in retail settings and online to under-16s. The move would add legal weight to a voluntary ban already in place across all the major retailers. 

Also, it is considered likely that Labour will re-open some of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy proposals in particular in relation to so called ‘ultra-processed’ foods (UPF) and HFSS foods (high in fat, salt or sugar); although industry has warned against any decisions that are not science-based and formulated with clear achievable health objectives rather than unintended consequences of undermining food security, affecting supply and/or raising prices.

It is considered that there will be no deviation from the currently postponed measures to tackle childhood obesity currently set out in the Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 and Health and Care Act 2002 implementing a 9pm watershed for less healthy food and a ban on all HFSS paid-for advertising online.


What of the past proposals for the streamlining of approval processes for regulated products, the support of research, development and technology and the promotion of origin and welfare labelling in food headlined by the last Conservative government?  

It is thought overall with Labour there would be more of move to work together with Europe and more collectively with the devolved administrations.  Certainly, having a ‘plan’ has been emphasised and it is hoped that stable government will bring its’ own benefits and also that the concerns of industry, farmers and business will be listened to.  Whether the same level of investment in research & development will be maintained is uncertain but the push for growth and private investment is likely to support this. This is likely to be in conjunction with Europe rather than away from it however.

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