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National Food Strategy (NFS)

“a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all.”

https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org (NSF Review, download to read)

Background

Henry Dimbleby (HD), co-founder of the healthy fast food chain Leon, was commissioned by the Government  to prepare an independent review setting out both vision & a plan for a better food system in the UK. The request that HD “designs recommendations so that our food system: delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where [people] live or how much they earn, & restores & enhances the natural environment for the next generation this country.”  The NFS was launched in two parts, July 2020 (importance of giving all public equal access to affordable & healthy food & prioritising UK food standards in any fair-trade agreements) & July 2021 (explored areas further & detailed ways of enhancing & maintaining food security & improving environmental impact of the supply chain); the Government, (DEFRA) (HD is a non-executive Director of DEFRA), has now responded (June 2022) with a White Paper, detailing the actions it intends to make on analysis of the plan.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1082026/government-food-strategy.pdf (White Paper Response, download to read)

NFS Review

HD’s NFS review, whilst high lighting areas in need of change & improvements also suggests however, that “we should not overlook the extraordinary achievements that has enabled our planet to: …fed us. Billions of us. More humans than ever before in history.”

However, he warns that such success brings its own issues: the headline of Chapter 3 states “how did we end up with a food system that can feed the world but makes us so ill? …destroys wildlife, pollutes our rivers & air, & produces almost 1/3 of our greenhouse gases.”

Amongst numerous issues the review includes detail on the correlation between availability of calorie-dense food & the consistent increase of obesity cases: in England almost 1 in 3 over 45’s are labelled clinically obese. Food manufacturers state they are not against improving the food they sell however ‘need a level playing field’ (Tim Rycroft, Food & Drink Federation). Government Intervention has previously proved successful, the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy resulted in a 29% decrease in the average sugar content of soft drinks over a 3-year period.

Referencing the ‘levelling up agenda’ the report states that “The inequalities within, & created by, our food system are stark.” Analysis of the annual National Diet & Nutrition Survey shows that adults on low incomes are more likely to have diets which are high in sugar but low in fibre, fruits, vegetables & fish. Children from the least well-off 20% of families consume around 29% less fruits & vegetables, 75% less oily fish, & 17% less fibre per day than children from the most well off 20%. Further stating that “a modern diet of cheap junk food has the peculiar quality that it can make you simultaneously over-weight & poorly nourished.”

The NFS review listed fourteen key recommendations under four key strategic objectives in

Chapter 16 – Recommendations. “Changes needed to the national diet by 2032 (compared to 2019) to meet health, climate & nature commitments: fruit & vegetable consumption increase by 30% & fibre by 50%; HFSS foods decrease by 25% & meat by 30%”

Objective One:

Escape the junk food cycle & protect the NHS

Introduce sugar & salt reformulation tax/mandatory reporting for large food companies/eat & learn initiative for schools

Objective Two:

Reduce diet-related inequality

Extend eligibility for free school meals/fund holiday activities & food programme/expand healthy start scheme/trial community EatWell programme

Objective Three:

Make the best use of our land

Budget for agricultural payments/rural land use framework/minimum standards for trade.

 

Objective Four:

Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Invest in innovation/national food system data programme/strengthen procurement rules/clear targets & legislation for change

Recommendation 14

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

The problems we have described in the food system have come about over decades and solving them will be a long-term effort. To stay the course we need clear, long-term targets, ongoing political attention, and a joined-up approach not only within Government, but across the food industry and communities. A strong framework of legal targets is essential to improve the food system. The Government has already set itself a statutory target for carbon emissions. The forthcoming Environment Act will do the same for the 30×30 pledge. We also recommend that it should include a legally binding target to halt biodiversity loss in England by 2030. And we recommend creating a statutory target to improve diet-related health through a Good Food Bill (see below). To maintain political focus, we recommend that  the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) should be expanded to cover healthy and sustainable food as well as food safety. Asking the FSA to take on these additional duties would be less confusing and expensive than establishing a whole new body to monitor progress. The FSA is governed independently, and well-placed to take a whole- system perspective. It is already established and has experience relevant to all the tasks that are required, although it would need additional resources to take on this responsibility.

The Government’s ambition on requesting the review was to explore options & ideas to ‘deliver a prosperous agri-food sector’ & ‘healthier, more sustainable diets to be achieved by all’. They have described the review as an ‘analysis of the challenges facing the food system, centred on two diagnoses: the ‘Junk Food Cycle’ & the ‘Invisibility of Nature.’

The White Paper response was published on Monday 13th June. It lays out how the government would support farmers, develop British industry, & ensure food security. Reducing the distance between farm & fork was cited as a key priority by Ministers, with a goal of spending 50% of public sector food funds on food produced locally or certified to higher standards.

Summary of Key Measures

Objective One:

To deliver a prosperous agri-food & seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply in an unpredictable world & contributes to the levelling up agenda through good quality jobs around the country.

Including a committed £270 million spend on the Farming Innovation Programme & investing £120 million in research; ensuring a sufficient , qualified & well-paid workforce

 

Objective Two:

To deliver a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice & access to high quality products that support healthier & home-grown diets for all.

Including the launch of the Food Data Transparency Partnership; up to 5 million to deliver a school cooking revolution; developing a series of frameworks to ensure we met net zero & biodiversity targets.

Objective 3:

To deliver export opportunities & consumer choice through imports without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported.

Including harnessing the benefits of new fair-trade agreements (FTA’s) as a result of Brexit.

 

Reaction: ‘This isn’t a strategy, it’s a feeble to-do list’

The White Paper has had mixed reaction on publication: Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of farming group Sustain, said: “In the face of multiple crises in the cost of living, rocketing obesity, climate change & nature loss, the government food strategy looks shamefully weak… Government was given crystal clear analysis and a set of recommendations by the Dimbleby food strategy, and has chosen to take forward only a handful of them.”

The Food Foundation’s executive director, Anna Taylor, said: “It is a feeble interpretation of HD’s recommendations, which will not be sufficient to drive the long-term change that we know is so urgently needed.”

Barbara Crowther, director of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “This is not a comprehensive food strategy when it fails to offer any new measures to address either the cost of living or the human and social cost of obesity… On the one hand it acknowledges HD’s analysis of a junk food cycle but on the other does nothing to address it, whilst key measures to rein in the industrial marketing power of the junk food industry are also now delayed.

Read our earlier blog on HFSS to find out more on the delayed legislation https://foodinnovationsolutions.com/hfss/

Others have been disappointed by the lack of progress, with Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London & Chairman of Action on Sugar & action on Salt concerned about the seeming lack of commitment to an ‘evidence-based food system’ going as far to state that ‘it is abundantly clear that our Government is in the pocket of the food industry & has no desire to bite the hand that feeds it’.

Reaction from the Food & Drink Federation CE Karen Betts was warmer, commenting that ‘the strategy was an endorsement of the success & centrality of the UK’s food industry & welcomed the commitment to put food & drink at the heart of UK government policy.’

 Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, said plans in the strategy to set up a new ’Food Data Transparency Partnership’ could be a big step forward. “It will go a long way towards tackling health disparities, providing clarity for consumers, & enabling trust & collaboration throughout food supply chains.”

HD himself has been diplomatic in not openly criticising the lack of adoption on a number of his recommendations, understanding the challenges facing the country not with-standing current issues of C19 & the war in Ukraine; admitting that further taxation suggestions would certainly see delay due to the current soaring inflation & cost of living crisis. However, there is already speculation that a number of the health issues raised may well be addressed within the ‘Health Disparities’ White Paper, due to be published within the coming weeks.

Watch this space…

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