National Food Strategy’s second report to government. Led by Henry Dimbleby, the report makes 14 policy recommendations for England.nvironmental impact labelling, innovation funding and mandatory reporting for large food companies are among the recommendations in the
Despite 14 government strategies between 1992 and 2020 that sought to reduce obesity in England, obesity has increased from 13 to 28 per cent, with morbid levels rising from less than one to more than three per cent in that time.
This week’s recommendations say all food businesses with 250 employees or more should be legally required to publish data each year on the nutritional value of product sales and on food waste.
It would include retailers, restaurants, contract caterers, wholesalers, manufacturers and online platforms.
In other recommendations, it says supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco publish relatively unusable types of health data in varying formats but the industry itself is calling for an open data framework.
This would support international efforts such as the Food Systems Dashboard, developed by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and John Hopkins University.
The report says there is no consistent in-store labelling of food’s environmental impact. Simple systems like traffic lights can help consumers make informed choices.
“Alternative proteins could create 10,000 factory jobs and secure 6,500 jobs in farming”
Having to record information about the environmental impact of food production could nudge manufacturers to improve their processes.
The Carbon Disclosure Project found that when companies disclose data on carbon emissions for the first time, just 38 per cent have an emission reduction target in place.
By the third year they disclose, this increases to 69 per cent, so transparency alone incentivises companies to improve. It also makes it easier for investors to understand what is going on in the companies they own, and to pressure management for change.
In supporting positive change, the report estimates that developing and manufacturing alternative proteins in the UK, rather than importing them, would create around 10,000 new factory jobs and secure 6,500 jobs in farming.
But the UK must do more to foster start-ups, or they simply will migrate abroad.
Although the UK produces world-class food science, it is less effective at the application of ideas, particularly in food and agriculture.
“Defra’s research budget fell from £225 million in 2007 to £52 million in 2017”
Total factor productivity (TFP) – an innovation metric – scores growth in The Netherlands at 2.6 per cent, Germany 1.8 per cent and in Denmark 1.2 per cent, between 2006 to 2016.
In the UK the figure was just 0.6 per cent. This a result of Defra’s research budget falling from £225 million in 2007 to £52 million in 2017. Over the same period, the Food Standards Agency’s research budget fell from £17 million to £2 million a year.
Meanwhile, the US is leading the world on producing alternative proteins, with Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats and Perfect Day raising $700 million, $161 million and $300 million respectively in capital last year.
The Netherlands has developed one of the largest agribusiness regions in Europe with universities, start-ups and multinationals working together to create new vegan foods.
Singapore and Israel have both proactively fostered alternative protein start-ups, and Singapore was the first country to give regulatory approval to a cultured meat product.
Regarding health, the report says two-thirds of England’s population eat less than the minimum recommended level of fruit and vegetables and one third eat more than the maximum recommended level of red and processed meat.
“Over 5 per cent of UK food service turnover is public sector procured – at £2.4 billion”
Fibre intake needs to be increased 50 per cent across the population. Sugar, salt and saturated fat needs to be reduced by between 12 and 40 per cent.
However, it points out that the government itself is failing to use its own, vast food procurement to deliver healthy diets.
The public sector serves 1.9 billion meals a year – over five per cent of the total UK food service turnover – at a cost of £2.4 billion, so public procurement is the government’s most direct tool to shape the food system.
Thirteen million people eat government procured meals every year, many of whom are children, hospital patients, or otherwise vulnerable.
Food eaten in schools could make up as much as half of a child’s diet in term time, and for some children, a school lunch is their only substantial meal of the day.
Despite this, government procurement does not include mandatory dietary or quality guidance. Public bodies are allowed to prioritise price over quality in procurement decisions. With the challenging budgetary situation in recent years, many have assigned 50 to 80 per cent of the marks available to price, meaning the cheapest bid wins, leading to a race to the bottom among suppliers.
“There is little accountability for food quality, food is simply not a primary concern”
Government food procurement guidelines do not require institutions to meet the government’s own nutrition guidelines and do not consider the environmental impact of the food that is served.
Nor do they reflect the public’s clear preferences on food standards including animal welfare. Suppliers are allowed to serve imported food produced in ways that would not be legal for UK producers.
There is very little accountability for the quality of food or how funding is spent, as food is simply not a primary concern.
The report recommends that the government should raise the household earnings threshold for free school meals from £7,400 to £20,000 and extend eligibility to children who are undocumented or have No Recourse to Public Funds.
This would guarantee an additional 1.1 million children from low-income families a lunch in school. In total, 2.8 million disadvantaged children would benefit from a free school meal, covering 76 per cent of families who are food insecure.
The report says funding agriculture to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2050 would cost landowners a total of £1.6 billion per year, earning a return £0.9 billion a year in private revenues.
“Removing Basic Payments by 2027 would see nearly 40 per cent of farmers go bust”
The value of public benefits would be £4 billion a year in nature restoration.
It says removing Basic Payments by 2027 would see nearly 40 per cent of farmers go bust, even if they retained existing payments for nature. But it would leave the top quintile of farms making profits of £30 to £50 for every £100 of input.
These differences in profit are not just the result of farmers’ effort or skill. Much of the difference lies in the land itself.
But the challenge of farming unproductive land can now be turned into an advantage, for both the farmer and the common good as some unproductive land is exceptionally well suited to creating environmentally friendly landscapes.
They are overwhelmingly upland farmers, though lowland grazing farms appear in this group too. The nation needs the carbon storage and natural habitats that around 20 per cent of English farmland is exceptionally suited to provide.
Reducing food production on some of this land poses very little risk to food security. Losing the least productive 20 per cent of farmland would reduce the calories produced by only three per cent.
“Core minimum standards must be defended in future trade deals”
The report says intensive agriculture has had a devastating effect on biodiversity. Since 1970, 41 per cent of UK wildlife species have decreased, and in the last ten years the UK has failed to meet 14 of 20 biodiversity targets.
It’s pointed out that the government has failed to respond to recommendations for core trading standards from two independent reports, both commissioned by the government.
The government must list core minimum standards, which it will defend in future trade deals. They should cover animal welfare, environment and health protection, carbon emissions, antimicrobial resistance, and zoonotic disease risk. The government must also devise mechanisms to protect these standards.
The current trade deal with Australia contains no such mechanism. This will allow Australia to export unlimited quantities of meat to the UK, regardless of how it was produced, and this sets a dangerous precedent.
The report says, “Our true carbon footprint – including that from imports – would be worse than ever, and we would bankrupt our own farmers in the process. This would be both ethically and commercially absurd. That is why the government must move quickly.”
The government is scheduled to respond to the report with a white paper in six months.