The National Food Strategy: a report and guide for the future of food in the UK

By Emma Carroll-Monteil, Sustainable Restaurant Association

Earlier this month, the National Food Strategy called on the Government to commit to a package of reforms in order to build a better food system for a healthier nation and planet. The report outlines the current issues both in the UK and globally regarding the food we eat, and its impact on our bodies and the planet. And, it offers clear objectives for the country to take to minimise these issues. The report itself is thought-provoking, thorough, and is definitely worth a read. However, we are here to give you a quick summary, in case the 289-page report is a little too long for you to digest in one sitting:

The report, led by Henry Dimbleby – cofounder of the SRA and Leon – details how unhealthy diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths a year in England alone. If that isn’t scary enough, he also warns that our eating habits are destroying the environment, and as a result, our food security is threatened. He elaborates that the food we currently eat is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, and is the leading cause of biodiversity destruction. In order to change this, all of us – individuals, businesses, and the Government – will need to change our consumption behaviour. To change this behaviour, the report offers four main objectives, and a series of practical recommendations on how to achieve each objective. Here’s our summary of the four key problem areas and the practical solutions we as a country can deliver:

  1. Escape the Junk Food Cycle and protect the NHS

Problem:  Junk foods, which are high in salt, sugars, and fats, are on average three times cheaper per calorie than healthier foods. These economics and human pre-disposition to crave calorie dense foods have trapped us in a vicious cycle – the Junk Food Cycle. Such foods are also among some of the worst for our planet. More than half of over-45s are living with diet-related conditions, which is putting an enormous strain on the NHS’s resources.

Solution:  Implement a tax for sugar and salt, therefore manufacturers are forced to make the foods they sell to consumers healthier. And use some of the revenue to provide low-income families with fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, introduce more serious food education measures into schools.

2. Reduce diet-related inequality

Problem: Unhealthy diets are cheaper than healthy diets, which makes eating healthy a financial inequality.

Solution: The Government should provide more support to the poorest households to help them eat well. Expand the Free School Meals to all households likely to be at risk of food security.

3. Make the best use of our land

Problem: Unhealthy diets and unsustainable farming practices tend to threaten our natural environment

Solution: Farmers should be better protected from competitors using unsustainable practices, and the Government should create a Rural Land Use Framework to determine which land should be farmed on, and which should be returned to nature. Additionally, we must change the demand for food – primarily, we must ensure that meat consumption is reduced significantly (30% to meet Net Zero). The report stops short of recommending a meat tax, convinced that the British public can stomach a levy on sugar, it’s not yet ready to pay for the privilege of eating roast beef.

4. Create a long-term shift in our food culture

Problem: Over time, our food culture has rapidly changed with what we eat, how often, how much, and in what contexts. Changing behaviour or introducing financial incentives alone will not be enough to produce a sustainable food system and a healthier nation.

Solution: We must create new food products and production practices that do less damage, and the Government should invest £1bn in researching more productive fruit and vegetable growing methods, plant-based protein, and other alternative proteins to reduce our reliance and consumption of meat. Further, it is important to strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

The report itself provides in-depth detail on the justification for each of these recommendations and is a great piece of material for informing on how and why we should be making changes to our food system. Be sure to check out the full report here.

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