The UK government has published its plan to create a ‘more prosperous agri-food sector’, claiming it would deliver ‘healthier, more sustainable and affordable diets for all’.
The National Food Strategy was released on 13 June and follows an independent review of the food system by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon restaurants and lead non-executive director at Defra.
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Karen Betts was one of the few commentators to welcome the strategy, saying it was an “endorsement of the success of the UK’s food industry”, although she warned against “driving extra costs into food manufacturing”, particularly in terms of recycling.
Dimbleby immediately distanced himself, saying the strategy was simply “a list of policies”. He said it would fail to have a major impact on the obesity crisis unless the government was prepared to tax products high in salt and sugar; introduce free fruit and vegetables for children suffering food poverty and expand free school meals. He blamed “fierce lobbying” from the food industry for the absence of many of his main proposals.
He said: “The food sector is as stuck in the junk food cycle as we are as a nation. It is a fact that it’s easier to sell food that hurts us than it is to sell food that doesn’t hurt us.”
Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, estimated that just four of Dimbleby’s 14 recommendations had been “substantially addressed” and said that the document, with its “flimsy commitments”, “lack of details” and “vague goals” meant a crucial opportunity had been lost.
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests, Greenpeace UK, went further. She said: “Instead of listening to the warnings from climate scientists on the urgent need to reduce meat production, ministers seem to be goading UK farmers into producing even more of it.
“Even tentative plans to rethink land use have been kicked into the long grass. Worse still, this strategy does nothing to stop the scandal of importing millions of tonnes of soya to feed UK chickens and pigs, driving climate-critical forests to the brink.”
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) joined those who were ‘dismayed’, saying the strategy was ‘limited’ and ‘lacked direction’. Ross Matthewman, head of policy and campaigns at CIEH, said: “The UK government’s National Food Strategy falls well short of what we had all been led to believe it would be. The strategy lacks the requisite detail and new measures that would have made it formidable.
“There appears to be no big vision or plan for how to tackle the growing issue of food security in our country, alongside addressing other intrinsically related issues such as the cost of living crisis and public health. We had hoped for more ambition in the final strategy and are not alone in our dismay.”
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