National Food Strategy sets out blueprint for a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’

A new National Food Strategy has today called on the Government to commit to a historic package of reforms in order to build a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’.

Food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby’s landmark report, commissioned by the Government in 2019 as the basis for its post-Brexit food strategy, sets out a range of measures intended to improve the country’s diets and general health, while also developing a new, more sustainable farming system, based on better land use.

You can view the report HERE

While there is little direct mention of pig production in the 290-page report, a number of its key recommendations and points will have a significant impact if they become reality, not least the suggestion that meat consumption needs to fall by 30% by 2032.

Diet focus

There is a headline recommendation for the world’s first Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax as part of a core focus on improving the nation’s diets, with some of the money being used to expand free school meals and support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. The report also calls for food education to be central to the national curriculum.

The strategy highlights how poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England alone, costing the economy an estimated £74 billion, and sets out how diets will need to change over the next 10 years in order to meet the Government’s existing targets on health, climate and nature.

By 2032, it suggests, 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%, while meat consumption should reduce by 30%.

Sustainable Farming

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

The report calls on the Government to invest £1bn in research and development to help improve the national diet, develop sustainable farming practices and protect the environment. This could include, for example, research on methane-reducing additives for sheep and cattle and new agro-ecological techniques.

Significantly for the pig sector, it also recommends that £50m should go towards building a commercial ‘cluster’ for entrepreneurs and scientists working on alternative proteins, suggesting this would help launch the UK into a new global food industry.

Public procurement

There is a recommendation to strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food, including encouraging procurement from local food suppliers, to improve competition and drive up standards, a move likely to be welcomed across the industry.

The reports recommends that Defra introduces a new Good Food Bill before Parliament before the end of the current parliamentary term in 2024, which includes expanding the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to cover healthy and sustainable food as well as food safety.

There is a call for National Food System Data programme to collect and share data so that the businesses and organisations involved in the food system can track progress and plan ahead.

Food standards

The drive for higher standards is, of course, potentially incompatible with the parallel drive for new trade deals with major food producing nations, such as Australia, the US and Canada, in many cases with lower production standards than we have now.

In Part One of the strategy, published in July 2020, Mr Dimbleby proposed that when making new trade deals, the Government ‘should only agree to cut tariffs on products which meet our core standards’. This recommendation was repeated by the Government’s own Trade and Agricultural Commission.

The new report calls on the Government to draw up a list of core minimum standards which it will defend in any future trade deals, and then set out which mechanisms it intends to use to protect these standards.

Otherwise, it warns that there is risk cheap imported food could undermine UK farmers’ efforts to protect the environment and animal welfare, while ‘undercutting – and potentially bankrupting – our own farming sector’.

Seize the moment

Mr Dimbleby said: “The food system is a logistical miracle, full of amazing, inventive people. With the right leadership from government, it is well within our power to change the system so it makes both us and the planet healthier.

“Currently, however, the way we produce food is doing terrible damage to the environment and to our bodies, and putting an intolerable strain on the NHS.

“Covid 19 has been a painful reality check. Our high obesity rate has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate. We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren.”

Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, said: “Dimbleby offers a nuanced and imaginative way forward, one which harnesses the capacity of farmers and land managers to be a major part of the solution in tackling these challenges, while being fairly rewarded for their hard work and ingenuity.”

Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner, said: “This is no time for half-hearted measures. If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public’s health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families.”

The recommendations

The recommendations in the National Food Strategy are grouped under four objectives:

  • Escape the Junk Food Cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reduce diet-related inequality
  • Make the best use of the land
  • Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Objective 1: Escape the Junk Food Cycle to Protect the NHS 

Recommendation 1 – Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax. Use some of the revenue to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families.

Recommendation 2 - Introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies.

Recommendation 3 – Launch a new ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative for schools.

Objective 2: Reduce diet-related inequality

Recommendation 4 – Extend eligibility for Free School Meals.

Recommendation 5 – Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years.

Recommendation 6 - Expand the Healthy Start scheme.

Recommendation 7 – Trial a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.

Objective 3: Make the best use of the land

Recommendation 8 – Guarantee the budget for Environmental Land Management scheme payments until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use. 

Recommendation 9 – Create a rural land use framework based on the Three Compartment Model.

Recommendation 10 – Define minimum standards for trade, and a mechanism for protecting them.

Objective 4: Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Recommendation 11 – Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.

Recommendation 12 - Create a National Food System Data programme.

Recommendation 13 – Strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

Recommendation 14 – Set clear targets and bring in legislation for long-term change. 

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.