By Johnathan Mounde, former research at Sancroft.
As the world continues to develop and grow in the face of global environmental and social challenges, ensuring a well-functioning and equitable food system becomes a matter of strategic importance. The National Food Strategy sets out a vision on how to build a future food system that addresses environmental and health challenges, ensures the security of our food supply, and maximises the benefits of technology, with a plan for how to achieve that vision.
What is The National Food Strategy?
The National Food Strategy is a two-part independent review conducted by Henry Dimbleby that explores the UK food system and was commissioned by the UK Government. The original brief was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the first part became a response to issues of hunger and ill-health. Part one presented seven recommendations in order to help the most vulnerable families considering the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as food insecurity. Part two returned to the original brief and looked deeply into the workings of the UK’s food system considering aspects such as damage to our ecosystem and physical health. The aim of the second part of the strategy is to produce a set of concrete proposals that can be considered, debated, and implemented by policymakers.
Why is the Strategy important?
The National Food Strategy highlights the increasingly complex issue of feeding a growing population, since as the population grows, so does the need for global food production. The complexity lies in that the total amount and quality of agricultural land has decreased by 33% in past 40 years.
As a result, a transformational plan is required considering 34% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) are related to the food system, with 71% of that coming from agriculture. This is important to note when looking at the UK’s emission reductions targets set out by the UK to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. In order to meet these commitments, we must reduce emissions from GHG-intensive sectors such as agriculture. Undertaking the recommendations set out by The National Food Strategy could provide valuable insight for policymakers.
What are the 14 recommendations?
- Introduce a sugar and salt tax, levied on manufacturers / importers
- Introduce reporting on food sales and waste for larger companies
- Launch a new Eat and Learn initiative for schools, to improve food knowledge
- Extend eligibility for free school meals
- Fund the Holiday Activity and Food programme for three years
- Expand the Healthy Start scheme
- Trial a Community Eat Well scheme for those on low incomes
- Guarantee the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029
- Create a rural land use framework based on the Three Compartment model
- Define minimum standards for trade
- Invest £1bn in innovation to create a better food system
- Create a National Food System data programme, to track progress
- Use government procurement to drive change
- Set clear targets, develop relevant legislation
Who could be affected?
- Consumers and the public
The consumer could see increases in the prices of sugar and salt heavy foods if the salt and sugar taxes are mandated; although the money collected from the tax is proposed to be used to subsidise healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables as well as helping to fund healthy food prescriptions.
The need to address climate change will also affect individuals. The National Food Strategy tells us that it is up to everybody to change their dietary habits for ones that are healthier and better for the environment. The Strategy recommends a long-term shift in our food culture, whereby we consume within our planetary boundaries.
Any changes to the food system inextricably impact producers. The envisioned reduction in meat consumption by 30% over the next decade would allow farmers to return up to 20% of the most unproductive land back to natural habitats. The report highlights the importance of management within the agricultural industry to protect the UK’s farmers from cheaper imported meats, that may be the result of poorly planned Brexit deals. A large proportion of the report calls on Defra to provide more clarity over the implication of the new Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), which will be replacing the subsidies currently offered under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – clarity that is urgently needed to prevent farmers bearing the brunt of poor regulation.
One of the strategy’s most important recommendations is for agricultural payments to remain (at minimum) at the present level of £2.4Bn until the very latest of 2029. This money would allow farmers to transition to more sustainable land use methods without taking a financial hit.
The strategy also lays out the idea of creating a “Rural Land Use Framework” by 2022, which would provide a foundation of the best ways to utilise areas of land. This data base would section off the UK in to three types of areas, these being areas of low or high food production, semi-natural land which are areas that are more suited to less intense forms of farming, and economic development and housing.
Companies with over 250 employees could be mandated to report the following metrics:
- Sales of food and drink high in fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS) excluding alcohol.
- Sales of protein by type (i.e., meat, dairy, fish, plant, or alternative protein) and their origin.
- Sales of vegetables.
- Sales of fruit.
- Sales of major nutrients: fibre, saturated fat, sugar, and salt.
- Food waste.
- Total food and drink sales.
Many food and drink companies already monitor some of these metrics. Nevertheless, applying a mandatory reporting system would provide greater transparency and standardisation, which can highlight opportunities for improvement for the environmental and health implications of our food system.
Important dates to remember
Although The National Food Strategy is highly regarded by many, it is not yet policy, and all of its provisions remain recommendations, pending Defra’s response. This should be published within the next six months. Nevertheless, the National Food Strategy provides clear actions and food for thought for individuals and industries to mitigate the effects of food insecurity, climate change and poor diets.
At Sancroft, our services are tailored to our clients’ needs. We work with a diverse range of companies within the food system to navigate the complexities of changing regulation and stakeholders’ expectations.
If you are interested to find out about how your company could be affected by changes in the food system, please contact Felix Gummer or Ilkka Saarinen.
For more insights from the Sancroft team, please sign up to our newsletter here.