Industry responds to part one of the National Food Strategy
Part one of the National Food Strategy has been published by Henry Dimbleby, offering recommendations for the future of food policy and trade. Here, New Food highlights the views of some key industry players…
Part one of the anticipated National Food Strategy has been published by Henry Dimbleby, British entrepreneur, cookery writer and co-founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. The Strategy, which is due to be followed with part two in 2021, is said to be the first independent review of UK food policy in almost 75 years.
Recommendations within the Strategy focus on three primary themes: ensuring a sustainable and equitable food system for future generations, focusing on health and securing a suitable and fair future of trade, with part two expected to further focus on food policy and climate change.
“The deals we make now will shape the food system of the future, affecting everything from the livelihoods of our farmers to animal welfare and climate change,” the report read. “The issue of how to strike trade deals without lowering food standards needs to be addressed now before it is too late.”
The report also highlighted that COVID-19 has reaffirmed “an important principle that in a crisis of this size you need to reinforce the entire societal safety net,” comparing the crisis and its subsequent losses to the Second World War. The report read: “The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole. There have, however, been heavy losses.”
Recommendations in the report include:
- Expand eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme
- Extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers
- Extend the work of the Food to the Vulnerable Ministerial Task Force for a further 12 months
- Government should only agree to cut tariffs in new trade deals on products which meet core UK standards, which should be defined by newly formed Trade and Agriculture Commission
- Government should adopt a statutory responsibility to commission and publish an independent report on any proposed trade agreements
- A statutory duty should be adopted to give Parliament the time and opportunity to properly scrutinise any new trade deal.
Tim Rycroft, Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) Chief Operating Officer, said: “We very much welcome the National Food Strategy Interim report. In particular, we welcome the recommended measures which will help to increase access and affordability of food for children and families on lower incomes. We have long called on the Government to introduce a more holistic approach to helping people to eat well, including targeted measures for those who need it most.
Our food system is highly successful in providing choice, convenience and value to the public and industry is rightly proud of this.
“Food and drink manufacturing has risen heroically to the challenges of COVID-19. While COVID’s immediate impact is receding, it will have long-term consequences for the operating model and, in some cases, the viability of many food and drink businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, as well as those companies that supply that sector. It is therefore essential that any measures we now adopt must facilitate and not hamper recovery.
“While we agree with the more targeted measures set out in the report, we are disappointed to see that Henry has endorsed two of the policies set out in the Government’s obesity strategy – a proposed ‘9pm watershed’ for HFSS advertising and banning retail and online promotions of HFSS products. The Government’s own evidence shows these measures combined will only reduce a child’s calorie consumption by 17 calories per day. Such measures will also massively dis-incentivise manufacturers to bring forward reformulated, healthier options since in many cases they will not be able to be advertised or promoted to consumers.
“Our food system is highly successful in providing choice, convenience and value to the public and industry is rightly proud of this. We acknowledge that there are issues that need to be addressed and we are ready to play our part. We look forward to working with Henry Dimbleby, his team and Defra in anticipation of the final National Food Strategy report in the coming months.”
James Elliott, Senior Policy Adviser at Green Alliance, working with the Greener UK coalition, said: “The National Food Strategy’s first report has made a very significant recommendation at an important time: that we should protect food and farming standards in trade deals, only lowering tariffs on products that meet UK standards. While bans on certain products and methods are still needed, maintaining tariff barriers on sub-standard products has a vital part to play in protecting the nation’s health and environment.
“However, the new Trade and Agriculture Commission is not an appropriate body to define the standards that imports to the UK need to meet. It lacks transparency and representation of environment, consumer and animal welfare groups, and its recommendations are advisory only. This is not an adequate substitute for a safeguard on standards in primary legislation.”
Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, said: “We welcome this thoughtful and comprehensive vision of what our food system looks like right now, and the attention it gives to the urgent response needed to coronavirus. We strongly support the recommendations that the report makes to ensure better access to healthy food for those families on the lowest income, and hope that the Government adopts without delay the calls to increase eligibility to free school meals, the value of Healthy Start vouchers and extension of the Holiday Activity and Food Programme.
There is so much more to fix in our food system, and the next report must give the attention it intends to sustainable food and farming’s key role in the economic recovery…
“We agree that there is a need for much higher parliamentary scrutiny on trade deals. Parliament must have a veto on deals that let down the public. But we’re disappointed to see the recommendation for a dual tariff system as this will see products that are currently banned authorised for sale.
“There is so much more to fix in our food system, and the next report must give the attention it intends to sustainable food and farming’s key role in the economic recovery – to provide jobs in sectors as wide ranging as farming, fishing, real bread baking to providing meals on wheels, whilst also delivering healthy food that is environmentally friendly. This report rightly responds to our current COVID crisis, the next must respond to the much bigger emergency we are facing – the climate and nature emergency.”
Tim Lang, Professor of food policy at London’s City University
“It’s a thoughtful report which recognises that consumers with unequal information cannot deal with the power of the industry. It’s the beginning of good.”
Chris Elliott, Professor of food safety at Queen’s University Belfast
“Part one of the National Food Strategy has concentrated on a number of crucial elements of what has gone wrong with the UK food system and paints a very bleak but highly accurate picture of the damage this has done to our society, economy and health service. The report does not provide the comprehensive details of what is needed to produce a food system that is fit for purpose but rather concentrates on the impacts of the COVID pandemic and our exit from the EU and what needs to be addressed urgently. I believe Henry Dimbleby has adopted the right strategy in terms of his report and the key issues he has identified should be front and central in the thinking of our Government.”