Earlier this week, on the 13th June, the Government issued its response to the National Food Strategy (NFS) which was published in July 2021. Restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, the architect of a landmark review of the food system produced 14 recommendations as part of the NFS. The Government Food Strategy has been largely criticised by many organisations for the limited uptake of the recommendations in the NFS (around 50%).
The Government strategy has also been criticised for not going far enough to deal with the current failures of the food system including the cost of living and climate crises. There is a feeling that these problems and the responses have been pushed into the future even though people are struggling as a result of our food system now. It is unclear if the document is responding to the cost-of-living crisis or if the intentions are to set out a vision and strategy to deal with long-term food system failure. These two issues are of course related however, the ambiguity of the strategy along with the failure to appreciate the interconnected nature of these policies creates shorter team conflict between goals. For instance, the cost-of-living crisis has been used as justification for not addressing the issues of obesity and nutrition. An example of this is the ambitious policy suggestion in the NFS to levy a tax on sugar and salt to help fund healthy food for those in poverty has been incorrectly conflated as a result seen as not currently feasible given the context of the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Johnson said the government strategy set out ‘a blueprint for how we will back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security.’
It is certain that we need to be able to produce a more resilient food system that can deal with the shocks to the food system that will be exacerbated by the climate crisis – and have a more effective response to ones that we have seen recently, such as the COVID supply chain crisis. A positive is that food security has been recognised as valuable, there is a small push to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient. Regenerative agriculture has also been emphasised as a strategy to achieve this goal. The issue again is that the goal of domestic food production is not understood as part of longer-term vision to connect resilience and sustainability within the food system to the health of the economy, people, and environment.
Positive areas of the plan included:
- The production of a land use strategy by 2023
- A consultation on public food procurement, with the goal of 50% local or higher certified food
- The promotion of regenerative agriculture and creating resilience in the UK food system
- A consultation on mandatory reporting by industry on health, and ‘explore the same on animal welfare standards’
What FoodSync would have welcomed in the government food strategy:
- The extension of eligibility of free school meals to 1.5 million more children in England – especially given the context of the cost-of-living crisis
- A response to our food-system’s role in the climate crisis and how we can reduce areas that are carbon intensive
- A response to the statistic that 64% of adults and 40% of children are overweight. There is seemingly no desire for state intervention to deal with this health crisis, instead of focusing on individual responsibility. This could incorporate a response to shift the large domestic market of sugar production to other aims mentioned in the strategy such as a shift to try to create domestic food production that is both resilient and consistent with the government’s nutrition recommendations.
Of the recommendations in the government strategy there is a lack of concrete aims and clear mechanisms for improvement and monitoring. Although this is a first response to create a wide food strategy for the UK (possibly since rationing in WW2) we need the repots that follow to address the criticisms. Sajid Javid’s Health white paper will be the next focus for food policy and a chance to address areas that have been lacking in the government food strategy.
The government health report will likely be the next point of interest in this discussion, food system failure cannot only be tackled through individual government departments’ policy. Food is a basic requirement for all, and its impact is broad across our society, we need to start to view our food system as an interconnected space, and when this happens we will be able to start to address the roots of the current and future crises that will impact all of us.