National Food Strategy calls for historic reforms to build a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’

A new National Food Strategy has today called on the Government to invest £1bn in research and development to help improve the national diet, develop sustainable farming practices and protect the environment.

In a landmark report commissioned by the Government in 2019 as the basis for its post-Brexit food strategy, food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby calls on the Government to commit to a historic package of reforms in order to build a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’.

You can view the report HERE

The strategy highlights how poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England alone, costing the economy an estimated £74 billion, and sets out how diets will need to change over the next 10 years in order to meet the Government’s existing targets on health, climate and nature.

By 2032, it suggests, fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30%, and fibre consumption by 50%, while consumption of food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will have to go down by 25%, while meat consumption should reduce by 30%.

The report warns that our eating habits are destroying the environment, which in turn threatens our food security, and stresses that the food we eat accounts for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and is the leading cause of biodiversity destruction.

There are various recommendations to invest in a more sustainable farming system and new food technologies, such as novel proteins to help restore and protect the natural environment.\

Food standards

But the strategy seeks to address the potential conflict this throws up with the Government’s post-Brexit global trading strategy. It calls for the Government to introduce clear safeguards protect our food standards in any new trade deals and prevent cheap imported food undermining UK farmers’ efforts to protect the environment and animal welfare, while ‘undercutting – and potentially bankrupting – our own farming sector’.

In Part One of the strategy, published in July 2020, Mr Dimbleby proposed that when making new trade deals, the Government ‘should only agree to cut tariffs on products which meet our core standards’. This recommendation was repeated by the Government’s own Trade and Agricultural Commission.

The Government must draw up a list of core minimum standards which it will defend in any future trade deals, and then set out which mechanisms it intends to use to protect these standards, the new report states.

Eye-catching recommendations for food and farming include a £1bn in research and development programme to improve diets and help develop sustainable farming practices, for example on methane-reducing additives for sheep and cattle, new agro-ecological techniques and local initiatives to improve health outcomes in deprived communities.

The reports recommends that Defra introduces a new Good Food Bill before Parliament before the end of the current parliamentary term in 2024, which includes expanding the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to cover healthy and sustainable food as well as food safety.

There is a call for National Food System Data programme to collect and share data so that the businesses and organisations involved in the food system can track progress and plan ahead, and a recommendation to strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food, including encouraging procurement from local food suppliers, to improve competition and drive up standards.

The strategy also recommends that the Government guarantee the budget for Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme payments until at least 2029, the end of the next parliament, to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use. Currently, they are only guaranteed until 2024.

There are numerous headline measures recommended to improve diets, including calls for the introduction of the world’s first Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax, with some of the money being used to expand free school meals and support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. It also calls for food education to be central to the national curriculum.

Mr Dimbleby said: “The food system is a logistical miracle, full of amazing, inventive people. With the right leadership from government, it is well within our power to change the system so it makes both us and the planet healthier.

“Currently, however, the way we produce food is doing terrible damage to the environment and to our bodies, and putting an intolerable strain on the NHS.

“Covid 19 has been a painful reality check. Our high obesity rate has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate. We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren.”

Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, said: “Dimbleby offers a nuanced and imaginative way forward, one which harnesses the capacity of farmers and land managers to be a major part of the solution in tackling these challenges, while being fairly rewarded for their hard work and ingenuity.”

Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner, said: “This is no time for half-hearted measures. If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public’s health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families.”

The recommendations

The recommendations in the National Food Strategy are grouped under four objectives:

  • Escape the Junk Food Cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reduce diet-related inequality
  • Make the best use of the land
  • Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Objective 1: Escape the Junk Food Cycle to Protect the NHS 

Recommendation 1 – Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax. Use some of the revenue to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families.

Recommendation 2 - Introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies.

Recommendation 3 – Launch a new ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative for schools.

Objective 2: Reduce diet-related inequality

Recommendation 4 – Extend eligibility for Free School Meals.

Recommendation 5 – Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years.

Recommendation 6 - Expand the Healthy Start scheme.

Recommendation 7 – Trial a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.

Objective 3: Make the best use of the land

Recommendation 8 – Guarantee the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use. 

Recommendation 9 – Create a rural land use framework based on the Three Compartment Model.

Recommendation 10 – Define minimum standards for trade, and a mechanism for protecting them.

Objective 4: Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Recommendation 11 – Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.

Recommendation 12 - Create a National Food System Data programme.

Recommendation 13 – Strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

Recommendation 14 – Set clear targets and bring in legislation for long-term change. 

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