Page last updated at 03:11 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 04:11 UK

Healthy eating 'alters landscape'

 A woman picking strawberries
People are encouraged to eat more fruit and vegetables

More healthy eating habits would dramatically alter the face of the British landscape, research suggests.

Health officials recommend eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

But the University of Reading study suggests if everyone did so, the UK would need 100,000 hectares of polytunnels to meet demand for fruit.

And following advice to eat less red meat and dairy products would mean 1.5m fewer cattle were needed, which would lead to large areas not being grazed.


The UK Research Councils' Rural Economy and Land Use programme, which funded the research, there may be "unintended consequences of policies".

Researchers told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today that if the government's guidelines were followed, demand for red meat would drop by 20% and dairy products by 40%.

For rural communities, such as the dairying industry of South-West England and upland areas of the UK these could be far-reaching and need to be taken into account
Professor Bruce Traill

That would mean 1.5m fewer head of livestock, leaving the upland hills, favoured by walkers and tourists, un-grazed, the report suggests.

This would mean the land would become covered in scrub and gorse, and if left alone would become inaccessible to visitors. The researchers also said that in Wales, cattle numbers would fall by some 400,000 head and sheep numbers would be halved. In the north of England both sheep and cattle numbers would fall by 200,000 head each, the research suggests.

Professor Bruce Traill said: "Undoubtedly the UK government has a duty to promote the health of the population and within this research project we have been looking at the most effective ways of doing that, whether by fiscal measures, social marketing, or by trying to enhance the nutritional qualities of the foods that people eat.

"There is potential in all of these approaches, if they are targeted effectively. But we do also have to consider the potential unintended consequences of policies.

"For rural communities, such as the dairying industry of South-West England and upland areas of the UK these could be far-reaching and need to be taken into account."

The report also says that increased production of fruit and vegetables in the East and South East of England would be unlikely to bring more employment.

This is because there is scope for machinery to be used for many of the required horticultural operations and, where labour is required, farmers would probably rely on casual workers.

Pressure would also increase on water supplies because of the need to irrigate crops.

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