Front page image from the National Food Strategy Part One

National Food Strategy aims to reverse damage of pandemic and obesity

Eagerly awaited report tackles childhood deprivation but fails to recommend banning low-quality food imports.
29 July 2020 , Sarah Campbell

The government can and must act immediately to create a food system that restores our health and our environment, according to the author of the eagerly awaited National Food Strategy, published today.

Sir Henry Dimbleby, founder of restaurant chain Leon and non-executive director at Defra, has published part one of the strategy in the form of a set of recommendations to the government in light of the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 crisis. There are two main themes: protecting the most disadvantaged children from the fallout from the pandemic; and how trade deals should be conducted as we reach the end of the Brexit transition period.

In a webinar to mark the launch, Dimbleby denounced the “pretty rotten” food culture in the UK, adding that “the slow motion disaster of our diet is going to bring this country down”. “The third highest risk factor for COVID is being obese. We have a health emergency and it’s amazing that we haven’t recognised it until now,” he said.

However, he also said that ensuring the food security of vulnerable children could be achieved using existing mechanisms of state, including making free school meals available to all children under 16 from a household in receipt of Universal Credit, and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 from £3.10.

On trade deals, Dimbleby recommended a dual-tariff approach to food imports, meaning that foods that do not comply to high UK standards would be allowed into the UK, just without the benefit of the lower tarrifs that compliant foods would enjoy. This is a disappointment for food standards campaigners, who have repeatedly seen missed opportunities to write UK standards into law, effectively banning lower quality foods from being imported.

Ellie Whitlock, policy and public affairs executive at CIEH, said: “We are disappointed that Sir Henry Dimbleby has bowed to government pressure and recommended a dual-tariff approach instead of fully protecting food standards post Brexit. Allowing a dual-tariff approach effectively means that food of a lower quality will still be allowed into the UK and some consumers will be exposed to hormone treated beef, pesticides that are currently banned in the UK and other harmful additives.

“This food may be clearly labelled in shops but this may not be the case in all restaurants and for prepared food. We are pleased to see so many big supermarkets committing to upholding our current high food standards. It’s a shame that the independent review of the food system has not done the same.”

However, Dimbleby said: “I don’t think that level of absolutism is worth it. There’s a longstanding convention that you don’t keep things out through bans, but through high tariffs. I thought a ban on that basis is unlikely to be viable. I think that the public appetite for letting this stuff into our country is so low […] We as a country care very, very much about the quality of our food.”

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