Government reneging on food policy plans, say experts

A year after publication of the UK’s 2022 Food Strategy, the Government has abandoned promises to transform the national food system and crucial targets on health, climate and nature will be difficult to meet, a group of eminent food system experts warn.

Writing in Nature Food, five academics from the Universities of York, Sheffield, Reading and Cambridge argue that the Government’s U-turns and lack of ambition on food policy leave the nation increasingly vulnerable to rising food prices, diet-related health conditions, and a decline in biodiversity.

The academics call on the UK’s next government to develop a more coherent, coordinated and collaborative approach to food policy. They propose a new five-point plan to support the UK to transition towards a more sustainable, healthier food system.

The Government’s wide-ranging 2022 Food Strategy focused on long-term measures to support a resilient, healthier, more affordable and sustainable food supply. It was a response to the recommendations set out in the previous year’s National Food Strategy Independent Review, authored by Henry Dimbleby.

In their commentary, the academics note that there have been a series of shelved government policies and reversed decisions since the 2022 Food Strategy was published, despite what they see as a collective will for change across the UK agri-food sector.

Grounded in recommendations from the Dimbleby Review, as well as evidence from several UK Government funded policy research programmes, the five-point plan proposes:

  • Setting up a cross-government commission that joins up population and planetary health to make policy decisions about future systems,

  • A full economic analysis of the recommendations evidenced in Dimbleby’s review,

  • Free school meals made available to all primary school children in England, revolutionising catering in schools,

  • Integrating mandatory health and environmental metrics into the Food Data Transparency Partnership. This partnership promotes the use of data when making decisions about the production and sale of healthier and more sustainable food and drink.

  • A comprehensive framework for how land should be used for food production, which would help to reverse the UK’s status as the worst-performing G7 country in terms of species depletion.

Lead author Professor Bob Doherty, Dean of the School for Business and Society at the University of York, said: “Although the Government’s 2022 Food Strategy was not as robust as the Dimbleby Review, it was a critical step in the right direction. Just one year later, Government have reneged on their responsibility to implement change across the whole agri-food sector. We are now seeing a gradual decline in food security, diet, soil health and biodiversity. To prevent the UK falling further behind other G7 nations, we need action to tackle diet-related health, improve school meals for the 800,000 children in poverty, increase the consumption of fibre, fruit and vegetables, and to better measure the environmental impacts of food production so the UN goals on Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions can be met.

“Rather than stalling and making U-turns, if the UK Government implemented their own food strategy it would boost our agri-food sector and save the country a lot of money in terms of GDP, as well as improve the health of soil and make a valuable and long-term contribution to human and planetary health.”