Part One of the National Food Strategy for England has been published. We set out our initial response below.
Sunshine peaking out from behind the dark clouds
Part One sets out urgent recommendations to the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the EU exit transition period (at the end of 2020). It is therefore not – and does not claim to be – anything approaching a vision or a strategy. That is saved for Part Two. By the time Part Two is published – in 2021 – we will have a good idea of how likely the UK Government is to implement the full National Food Strategy. If it has responded positively to Part One, we can be hopeful. The UK government should put a bold National Food Strategy high up on its list of priorities.
There is a powerful case – both emotive and evidence-driven – for the need to tackle dietary ill health. As Henry Dimbleby rightly says “It is extraordinary, really, that the dietary ill-health of this country hasn’t been seen as a medical emergency until now… Poor diets account for an astonishing £54 billion every year in lost earnings and profit.“.
We are pleased to see nods to #BuildBackBetter, with the report noting that “We have cooked more, wasted less, and spent more time eating together at the table [during the pandemic]. We should find ways to encourage these habits as lockdown lifts.”
This echoes what we and others have been saying over the past few months. Shifting to a food citizenship mindset – where we treat each other as food citizens – is a vital part of that. We welcome the call for equality of opportunity and would expand that further. A fair food system needs ‘fair shares, fair play and a fair say’. This should include bringing citizens’ voices into shaping future policy.
The report weaves a carefully crafted narrative. But what of the recommendations – which in truth are all that some will read? Again, as Henry Dimbleby notes, these are deliberately pragmatic, rather than ‘grand and sweeping’. The recommendations unashamedly focus on helping ‘our most disadvantaged children’ and on trade. It is trade recommendations that are most likely to receive a mixed response.
Our Executive Director, Dan Crossley, commenting on Part One of the National Food Strategy:
“This is a welcome and considered report, with a refreshing systemic approach. We urge the UK Government to respond to Part One recommendations with the urgency they merit. By doing so, it will show that it takes the National Food Strategy seriously.
We strongly support recommendations in Part One calling for increasing eligibility of free school meals and for increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers – both important measures to address good eating for all from an early age. We also support the call to adopt a Statutory Duty to give Parliament the opportunity to properly scrutinise any trade deal.
We encourage Henry Dimbleby and the team to build on the work to date and to be bold in Part Two. We need to find ways to address all our impending threats – including the climate and biodiversity crises, which are getting worse by the day. We need a strong collective vision and brave experiments to get us there.”
The Part One report is available to read on the National Food Strategy website here.