National Food Strategy much needed and long overdue, says CIEH

16 July 2021, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has welcomed the publication of the new National Food Strategy calling for reform to the food system to protect the NHS, improve the nation’s health and save the environment.

CIEH has applauded those central to the publication and in particular its author, Henry Dimbleby, for the high ambition shown. CIEH specifically welcomes the central underpinning assumption that places food, our diets, and eating habits, as central to our health and wellbeing, and recognises the unsustainability of the situation at present.

Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy at London City University and CIEH Vice President said:

“Food is, and always has been, right at the centre of our health and wellbeing. As this report makes clear, current diets and eating habits are unsustainable – both environmentally, economically in terms of the costs of ill health, and socially in terms of morbidity.

We have known that for some considerable time as other publications and evidence, to which this report refers, have also made that abundantly clear. So, whilst I welcome the report, it is arguably long overdue.

The recommendations are good, but the document is light on detailed implementation. What is crucial now is what the government does next.

It is of some concern that the Prime Minister appears to have already discounted a key recommendation of his own advisor on the day that the report has been published and ironically in a speech about “levelling up.” We also question how the UK Government’s apparent intent to pursue trade deals that could potentially undermine our food standards, as well as our farmers, fit with the laudable recommendations in this strategy.

We shall follow the progress from this strategy to the white paper promised by the Government in January 2022, with close attention.”

Gary McFarlane, CIEH Director for Northern Ireland said

“This report, although billed as a “National” Food strategy, applies only to England as food is a devolved matter. However, the challenges which the report seeks to address are shared across the UK.

The challenge of building a sustainable and resilient food system for the future cannot be achieved for England in isolation from the UK as a whole given the interconnected nature of food supply chains. We are aware of work in both Northern Ireland and Wales that occupies the same space as this Food Strategy for England, but we would urge all jurisdictions across the UK to collaborate on this crucial issue. This work must be joined up.

Not only must the four governments of the UK work together, there is also a need for the UK to work with our nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, with whom we share not only a land connection, but also a highly integrated food supply chain. This is even more important considering the future challenges around food supply and the need for a much more circular food economy for these islands in the future.”

CIEH also notes with interest the recommendation to expand the role of the Food Standards Agency to cover health and sustainable food as well as food safety; the suggestion that the FSA would hold the Government to account; and a legal obligation on local authorities to develop their own food strategies.

On these Professor Lang added:

“Whilst we have no issues with what would be an expansion of the FSA’s role, with it having previously held responsibility for healthy eating in England, something of this importance must ultimately be owned and led by Ministers who should be directly accountable.” 

Gary McFarlane said:

When it comes to the implementation, it is not just the FSA that has key roles. Local Government and Environmental Health Practitioners always have been and are the backbone of our food standards. They are uniquely placed with all the right skills to assist businesses, playing the crucial role that they will need to play to ensure a transition to healthier and more sustainable diets.

Likewise, other aspects of local authority work, such as planning, leisure services, and community development, also have key roles to play. We welcome and support the recommendations in the strategy around investment. That investment however needs to also extend to the local authority sector to harness and support the innovation they can bring along with ensuring adequate capacity.”

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