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National Food Strategy calls for historic reform to the food system

Published today, Part Two of the National Food Strategy calls for historic reform to the food system to protect the NHS, improve the health of the nation and save the environment. The Strategy calls for a landmark Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax, expansion of Free School Meals and a major overhaul of food education.

Photo from pixabay

Photo from pixabay

The Strategy's author Henry Dimbleby calls on the Government to commit to a package of reforms in order to build a better food system for a healthier nation. He sets out how diets contribute to approximately 64,000 deaths every year in England alone and cost the economy an estimated £74 billion.

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

The independent report, commissioned by the Government in 2019, calls for:

  • The introduction of the world’s first Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax, accompanied with an expansion of free school meals and programmes to support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods
  • A £1bn innovation fund to improve the food system
  • Funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme
  • An expansion to the Healthy Start voucher scheme
  • A 'Community Eatwell' pilot of GPs prescribing fruit and veg to improve diets
  • Guarantee that the budget for agricultural payments lasts until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use
  • Food standards to be protected in any new trade deals
  • Stronger government food procurement for healthy, sustainable food

Henry Dimbleby also recommends the government invest in sustainable farming techniques and new food technologies such as novel proteins.

The National Food Strategy also sets out how our diets will need to change over the next ten years in order to meet the Government’s existing targets on health, climate and nature. By 2032, 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%, and meat consumption should reduce by 30%.

The full report is available from the National Food Strategy website.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain said:

“This is an incredibly ambitious report which covers many aspects of how our food is produced and presented to us. We all deserve to eat well in a way that keeps us healthy and is kind to the planet. But currently, too many of us can’t do that and we live in places where it’s hard to access good, fresh food. Obesity rates are rocketing and health inequalities are widening. Furthermore, all too often the food sold to us is destroying our natural world and is cruel to animals. This is not a problem of education or individual will, this is a systemic problem that requires leadership from our government. We welcome Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy and its call for fundamental change. We urge the Government to respond to its recommendations in its forthcoming White Paper.”

On the proposed Sugar and Salt Reformulation, Barbara Crowther, Coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, said:

"The Salt and Sugar Reformulation Tax is bold and ambitious in addressing the continued high levels of these ingredients lurking in the processed food we eat and drink. It could potentially remove the equivalent of 3 kilogram bags of sugar per person from our annual intake. Critical to winning public support will be an assurance that the revenue raised by a tax like this would be reinvested in food and health programmes for those who could most benefit from this support. The government has no excuse to say it cannot afford some of the proposed measures to reduce diet inequality, when it is being offered a route to raise around £3 billion a year to do just that. We hope the Government will now seize the opportunity to build sweetly on the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and make a new Salt and Sugar Tax part of its forthcoming White Paper."

On free school meals, holiday provision and food education, Barbara Crowther continued:


“We agree we must address the ever increasing inequalities in our food system, where lack of income pushes families towards less healthy, cheap, high calorie, ultra-processed and convenience foods. We welcome the National Food Strategy’s concrete proposals to expand access to healthy food in schools to over a million more children, increase distribution of fruit and vegetables, and maintain holiday provision so that no child goes hungry or unsupported. We call on the Government to incorporate these measures into the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review for 2022-25 as a first step, and commit to a wider school food review. 

"Longer term, our vision is for a school system in which healthy food is seen as integral to core school provision as teachers, books and desks, and for the England to join the growing list of countries starting to roll out more universal school approaches.

"Beyond these nutritional safety nets, a cross-Governmental response to the National Food Strategy must also address the causes of poverty and inequality, such as low wages and insecure employment, and ensuring welfare benefits are sufficient to afford nutritious food for the family.”

On farming, Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming at Sustain, said:

“We welcome the National Food Strategy and its push for longer term support for farming to 2029 as well as its recognition of the key role for agroecological farming approaches, such as organic. But to create a resilient, fairer and responsive market for farmers we also need properly regulated supply chains and the growth of new routes to market for farmers and we hope to see that come through in the Government’s response to this report. A rural land use framework is long overdue but we would stress the need for land sharing or an agroecological approach on the majority of land so we still produce food alongside public goods like nature."

On the suggestion that the UK should reduce its consumption of meat by 30% by 2032, Ruth Westcott, Campaign Co-Ordinate on Climate and Nature for Sustain said:

“Globally, our food system produces a third of our green house gas emissions with intensive meat and dairy a significant contributor. We have no hope of meeting our net zero target without addressing that.


 “But it’s not fair to expect consumers to take responsibility for this when so much of the meat available and affordable to them is factory farmed.  We would like that to change and there is evidence that UK consumers are already willing to play their part by reducing their consumption. We would like to see incentives for the private sector to use more veg and better standard meat and dairy in ready meals and restaurants menus. We would also like to see targets and standards to be put in place for public sector food so more taxpayer money is spent on sustainable, higher welfare (preferably British) produce. We would also like to see British farmers supported to transition to higher welfare, more sustainable farming and to ensure they aren’t undercut by low standard, low welfare produce from overseas. ”

 

On legislation and governance, Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain, said:

“We welcome the recommendation the National Food Strategy makes for a Good Food Bill. Without legislation, clear responsibility, accountability and adequate powers and resources for implementing a long-term plan, the fresh ideas in this ground-breaking food strategy will quickly wilt. The strategy sets out thorough consideration of who needs to be responsible for overseeing the transformational change that our food system badly needs, from across national Government departments through to local government, working in partnership with local communities.”

On the pilot proposal for GPs to prescribe fruit and veg, Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, said:

“Obesity rates are rocketing, and health inequalities are widening. This is not a question of individual will; too many of us can’t afford to eat well or live in areas where it’s hard to access good, fresh food. We welcome the National Food Strategy’s proposal for GPs to be allowed to prescribe fruit and vegetables. This is exactly the sort of radical disruption of the current food system that we need to see. Furthermore, we wholeheartedly support the recommendation that this be used to support local food infrastructure and businesses, such as fresh food markets and box schemes, which have the added benefit of providing more jobs and money in local communities.”

On the recommendation to have a set of core standards for food imports, Orla Delargy, Head of Public Affairs at Sustain, said:

“Buying low standard, low animal welfare imports would be off-shoring our global responsibility towards people and the planet. We welcome the NFS recommendation that the Government define minimum standards for food imports, and a mechanism for protecting those standards. This echoes what the Trade and Agriculture Commission called for earlier this year. The Government needs to bring forward plans on this urgently before it signs a low standard deal with Australia, which would pave the way for more of the same with other nations.”

Published 15 Jul 2021

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