Poor diets lead to one in seven UK deaths – a figure set to rise as the legacy of Covid-19 increases unemployment, poverty and hunger.
Part One of the National Food Strategy launched today focuses on the importance of healthy eating for disadvantaged children and protecting high environmental and welfare standards post-Brexit.
In his introduction, Henry Dimbleby, independent reviewer, says, “These recommendations are urgent, specific and carefully targeted. In this period of acute crisis they could save many thousands from hunger, illness and even death. They will also help shape a more sustainable future for this country through enlightened trade deals.”
He says, “The crisis we face right now requires immediate action… Unemployment now rushing towards us is likely to create a sharp rise in food insecurity and outright hunger.” He describes the high number of diet-related deaths even before Covid-19, as a medical emergency, the numbers being vastly higher than traffic accidents and almost as fatal as smoking.
Henry Dimbleby adds, “Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of Covid-19.” He goes on to point out that workers in food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from Covid-19. And those in the hospitality sector have taken the biggest economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession.
One of the key recommendation is to extend the Food to the Vulnerable Ministerial Task Force for a further 12 months to July 2021, enabling it to collect, assess and monitor data on the number of people suffering from food insecurity.
Certification is needed for animal welfare, environmental and climate concerns
The recommendations include:
- Expanding the eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits).
- Extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of Free School Meals.
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week, and expand the scheme to every pregnant woman and to all households with children under 4 where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits.
- In addition, a set of food guidelines for school caterers supplying free school meal parcels over the summer has also been devised.
Regarding trade negotiations as the EU exit date approaches:
- The report says tariffs should only be cut on products that meet core standards. Verification programmes need to be created. Currently such programmes allow American farmers to sell non-hormone-treated beef to the EU.
- Certification schemes need to cover animal welfare, environmental and climate concerns. The core standards should be defined by the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
- The Government should adopt a statutory responsibility to commission an independent report on proposed trade agreements.
- The Government should adopt a statutory duty to give Parliament the time and opportunity to properly scrutinise any new trade deal.
Part Two of the National Food Strategy, to be published next year, will examine the food system from root to branch, analysing health and the interwoven issues of climate change, biodiversity, pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases and sustainability.