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Parliamentary committee criticises the government’s ‘leisurely approach to food security’

The Government has responded to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select committee report on food security. The Select Committee report, published in July 2023, urged the Government to tackle the accessibility and affordability of healthy food for households across the UK. However, the committee chair, Sir Robert Goodwill, has criticised the government response and their ‘leisurely approach to tackling unhealthy eating habits’. 

Westminster. Credit: Dominika Gregušová | Pexels

Westminster. Credit: Dominika Gregušová | Pexels

What did the EFRA report call for?

The original EFRA Select Committee report called for a significant shift in the Government's approach to food security. It highlighted that 20% of households in the UK are facing challenges in obtaining economically viable access to nutritious food, causing a shift toward less healthy alternatives. Without intervention, this trend will result in a 40% obesity rate among the population by 2025.

Sustain welcomed the EFRA committee report recommendations, which included clear proposals for the Government to publish a detailed response to each of the National Food Strategy recommendations, commit to a bespoke food security summit and publish annual food security reports. Sustain also strongly welcomed the report’s recommendations to review the costs and benefits of extending free school meals (FSM), increase the household income threshold criteria for FSM, undertake a full impact assessment of the introduction of a sugar and salt reformulation tax, and forecast rates of overweight and obesity had the HFSS food volume price promotions been introduced in October 2022. 

Kath Dalmeny, Sustain's Chief Executive said 

"Getting food security and good nutrition recognised by Government as a national priority is a long uphill battle. The Government's lacklustre response to the EFRA Committee's helpful recommendations will be disappointing to the millions of people in the UK struggling desperately to put food on the table and having to choose between heating and eating as the winter sets in. The Government won't even commit to the most basic of steps, which is to measure the problem of household hunger, and to offer free school meals and fruit and veg vouchers to families who need them. It appears that the Government's approach is to leave hungry children conveniently out of sight and out of mind."

You can see Sustain’s summary of the EFRA committee report here

How did the Government respond?

The Government response stated that “creating healthy lives is not just a matter for Government. It also means empowering and enabling people to manage their own health and engage in healthy behaviors across their lives.”

On free school meals

The Committee's report highlighted the need for a comprehensive examination of the costs and benefits associated with expanding free school meals (FSMs). However, the Government rejected this suggestion, arguing that extending eligibility to all families on Universal Credit would incur substantial financial implications, leading to approximately half of pupils becoming eligible for a free meal. Sustain’s Say Yes to School Food for All campaign highlights the economic, health and social benefits of extending school meals to all pupils, and points to the mounting evidence of success in other countries and localities that have rolled out universal school meals. The Children's Food Campaign and members of youth parliament delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street today showing support from more than 1200 areas across the UK for school food for all. 

On reviewing the impact of a Sugar and Salt tax

The Government rejected the proposal to deliver an impact assessment of the sugar and salt tax, citing concerns about cost of living. This was in spite of evidence from the introduction of the Sugary Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) that industry recipe reformulation did not drive up costs for consumers. Sustain's joint Recipe for Change campaign will continue to call for an industry levy to help make food healthier and build on the huge success of SDIL.

On High Fat Salt Sugar promotions delay

The Committee was disappointed that the Government response on the postponement of the volume price promotions ban again cited concerns about costs to consumers but failed to acknowledge that volume price promotions drive overpurchasing of unhealthy products. Sustain agrees with the EFRA Committee and questions whether delaying the restrictions will truly benefit consumers during the current cost-of-living crisis. 

On joint approach to food security

While the Government acknowledged the importance of policy coherence, it emphasised existing cross-Whitehall structures for coordination. Despite the committee’s call for an annually updated UK Food Security Report and an annual Food Security Summit, the Government made no commitment to regular updates. 

On the Land Use Framework

The UK Government stated that it plans to release a Land Use Framework for England this year, offering a comprehensive perspective on land use for growth, achieving Net Zero, climate change adaptation, nature recovery, food security, and economic infrastructure. The Government has insisted that it has taken the recommendations from the House of Lords Land Use in England Committee inquiry into account.

On the revisiting the National Food Strategy

The Government stated its consideration of the Dimbleby review during the development of its own Food Strategy and stated that it is unusual for the Government to publish cross-Whitehall policy discussions. Over two years on from the National Food Strategy being published, the Government has only taken forward one proposal from the strategy – the food data transparency partnership – but plans to make it mandatory for large businesses to publicly report against a consistent set of health metrics have been shelved.

Read the full Government response here
Read the EFRA committee response to the Government here.

Published Friday 17 November 2023

Sustain: Sustain The alliance for better food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity.

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