The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has criticised the Government over its ‘leisurely approach’ to tackling food security.
EFRA today published the Government’s response to its report on Food Security, which was published in July.
Domestic food production
On the issue of domestic food production, the EFRA Committee report raised the issue of labour shortages in the food and farming sector, which have resulted in serious negative impacts on the food supply chain, particularly the pig sector, and urged the Government to respond as an imperative to the recommendations of the Shropshire review on the subject.
The Government states that its response to the Shropshire Review will be published by the end of the year. The EFRA Committee looks forward to reviewing this.
The EFRA report concluded that there is an incoherent approach to food policy across Government and emphasised the need for policy coherence and strong leadership, recommending a comprehensive review of departmental responsibilities and structures.
The Government agreed on the importance of policy coherence, which it says is provided by cross-Whitehall structures enabling coordination.
To maintain a consistent overview of the UK’s food security landscape, MPs called for an annually updated UK Food Security Report, together with an annual Food Security Summit, to be chaired by the Prime Minister. In its response the Government makes no commitment to any annual updates on food security. The response flags the Global Food Security Summit, which the Government is hosting next week.
The EFRA report MPs noted that the Government’s Food Strategy (GFS) fell short of directly responding to Henry Dimbleby’s independent review, commissioned by the Government, and urged the Government to publish a detailed response to each of the review’s recommendations.
The Government has responded that it is not usual to publish cross-Whitehall policy discussions but says that it did fully consider the review when developing its own Food Strategy.
The report made a number of other recommendations, covering issues including a proposed suite of food security indicators, the resilience of the supply chain for nitrogen fertilisers and the Government’s Land Use Framework.
The Committee’s report highlighted that the UK is in the midst of an obesity crisis and is facing a situation of around 40% of the adult population being obese by 2035. The MPs called for a full impact assessment of the introduction of a sugar and salt reformulation tax, acknowledging that while such a tax might cause consumer prices to rise, it could lead consumers to substitute cheaper healthier foods into their shopping basket.
The Committee said it was disappointed by the Government’s response that ‘does not consider that now is the right time to introduce new taxes that will push up the cost of food’.
On the issue of unhealthy food, the report stated its regret that the Government’s ban on volume price promotions had been delayed for a third time, until October 2025, from the original date of April 2022, and questioned the rationale for this, doubting that the delay will save consumers money.
The Government’s response stated that it has delayed the ban because it believes it could contribute to an additional rise in the cost of living. However, it also acknowledged that volume price promotions encourage the over purchasing of less healthy products.
The Committee is doubtful therefore whether the decision to delay the implementation of the restrictions will help consumers in the current cost-of-living crisis.
EFRA chair, Sir Robert Goodwill, said: “We are disappointed that in the midst of an obesity crisis, the Government is taking a leisurely approach to tackling unhealthy eating habits and we are also concerned that current Government measures do not adequately track food security, at either the household or the national level.
“The UK has a successful food and farming sector and we must ensure that the Government works proactively to promote the sector’s good work in supplying the nation with healthy food.
“While we are glad that the Government says it takes all aspects of food security very seriously, we would have liked, in the interest of transparency, for the Government to publish its detailed response to the recommendations made in the National Food Strategy Independent Review.
“We would also have liked the Government to commit to updating the UK Food Security Report annually. The UK Food Security Report should be central to steering Government strategy and policy making on food security and therefore should be as up to date as possible.”