New National Food Strategy disappoints

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The Government has published its new National Food Strategy white paper, which it claims will help to ensure it delivers on its ambition for a prosperous agri-food sector and that healthier and more sustainable diets can be achieved by all.

The document is a response to the publication of Henry Dimbleby’s Independent National Food Strategy Report, however, reception has been mixed, with criticism that the policy is a watered-down version of the Dimbleby recommendations which fails to make the most of what has been described as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to make a real difference to our food system. A Sky News headline describes the paper as ‘Bordering on preposterous’, whilst the BBC quotes Henry Dimbleby as saying: “They’ve now implemented more than 50% of what I recommended, but it hasn’t been done with one vision across the whole system.”

The international food awareness organisation, ProVeg International, called the white paper “a dereliction of duty.” Director, Jimmy Pierson said: “it’s a cop out, and largely ignores the National Food Strategy, which called on the nation to eat 30% less meat. Instead, the Government has served up 30 pages of precious little, wasting a golden opportunity to fix our broken food system.”

He added: “While we support the Government’s sentiments on educating children around healthy and more sustainable food, it falls short of any meaningful way of reducing the barriers and making them more accessible to all, which is so desperately needed.”

The Soil Association says the strategy already looks broken, but there are fragments of policy that offer hope. The Soil Association, which runs the Food for Life model for hospital and school food procurement, criticises the lost opportunity to “break the junk food cycle,” as well as the strategy’s “vague” approach to trade and the lack of core standards. However, it welcomes the surprise commitment to introducing a national land-use framework to guide farming and land use for climate, nature and food security, even though the failure to commit to a bold national reduction target for pesticide use is a barrier to achieving this vision. 

Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Rob Percival, Head of Food policy at the Soil Association said: “I think that it’s really negligent, the degree to which it’s failed to follow through on the food strategy recommendations.

“People are struggling to eat. We have these enormous challenges in relation to the climate crises, the geopolitical shocks to the food system, and this is not up to scratch, this document. It does not contain the robust, coherent approach to food policy that we need to address these issues. So it’s disappointing.”

All eyes will now be on the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, reportedly a fan of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations, and his promised Health Disparities white paper, which could yet take action on more of Dimbleby’s recommendations designed to tackle health inequalities.

Elsewhere, the strategy was welcomed by NHS Providers. Director of Policy and Strategy, Miriam Deakin said: “The strategy, which builds upon commitments in the levelling-up white paper, acknowledges the links between deprivation and obesity. Initiatives to tackled diet-related ill health, such as investment in a primary care based pilot programme to improve diets, and expanding on local food partnerships, which bring together councils and partners, are welcome.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) also welcomed the policy. “The National Food Strategy represents a clear milestone with the government recognising the importance of domestic food production, maintaining our productive capacity and growing more food in this country,” said NFU President Minette Batters.

“We know the public want to be eating more local, British food and farmers are ready to play their part in producing high quality and climate-friendly food, all while protecting and enhancing our environment. We now need to see this strategy develop into clear delivery and investment to capitalise on the benefits food and farming delivers for the country, such as our world-leading standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”

The Government has also launched a consultation on changes to public sector food and catering policy, including the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF).



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