Following the announcement of the Government’s plans to tackle obesity within the UK, Henry Dimbleby has called for more to be done in order to support healthier diets in the first part of the National Food Strategy.
The National Food Strategy was commissioned by the Government in 2019 and represents the first independent review of England’s entire food system for 75 years.
Part one of the review, led by entrepreneur and non-executive board member for DEFRA, Henry Dimbleby, offers recommendations on the need for healthier diets and tackling food insecurity within the UK, as well as addressing the importance of agreeing trade deals which protect British food standards and opening any trade agreements up to independent scrutiny.
Referencing the purpose of the report, Dimbleby said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has put the global food system under severe strain, at a time when the UK was already going through major constitutional change.
“The purpose of this interim report is to do two things. First, to identify where the worst cracks have appeared during the pandemic and recommend some immediate Government actions to help those most affected.
“Second, to prepare for the end of the EU Exit transition period on 31st December. We will consider how to maintain the UK’s high food standards, while also becoming a champion of free trade.
“Much more will need to be done, beyond what is set out here, to create a food system that restores our health and our environment.”
Coming off the back of the Government’s recent plans for tackling obesity, Dimbleby believes obesity within the UK is something the country can no longer ignore: “Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of Covid-19.
“This has given a new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK (90,000
a year). That is vastly more than the death toll from traffic accidents (1,780 a year) and almost as fatal as smoking (95,000). This is a medical emergency we can no longer afford to ignore.”
Dimbleby also recognised the rise in unemployment and how that is likely to create a sharp rise in food insecurity. In response to this, the strategy outlines a series of recommendations which aims to protect vulnerable people and children.
The report estimates that an additional 1.5 million, 7-16 year olds, would benefit from free school meals, taking the total number of children to 2.6 million at a cost of an additional £670 million a year.
It also suggests an extension to the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of Free School Meals.
Dimbleby also recommends extending the work of the Food to the Vulnerable Ministerial Task Force for a further 12 months up until July 2021, with its focus being on collecting, assessing and monitoring the number of people suffering from food insecurity at any time.
Dimbleby also listed a series of recommendations for the UK and its ongoing trade negotiations, with the aim of protecting the UK’s own food standards guidelines. The recommendations include:
- The Government should only agree to cut tariffs in new trade deals on products which meet our core standards.
- Verification programmes – along the lines of those currently operated by the US Department of Agriculture to enable American farmers to sell non-hormone-treated beef to the EU – should be established, so that producers wishing to sell into the UK market can, and must, prove they meet these minimum standards.
- The core standards should be defined by the newly formed Trade and Agriculture Commission.
- The Government should adopt a statutory responsibility to commission and publish an independent report on any proposed trade agreements.
- The scope of the impact report should include economic productivity, food safety and public health, the environment and climate change, society and labour, human rights, and animal welfare.
- The report would be presented alongside a Government response when any final trade treaty is laid before parliament. It is important that government decisions – especially those with such profound consequences as new trade deals – should be properly scrutinised.
- The Government should adopt a statutory duty to give Parliament the time and opportunity to properly scrutinise any new trade deal. It must allow time for relevant select committees to produce reports on any final deal, and allow a debate in the House of Commons.
Dimbleby also paid homage to the food industry for its efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. In the executive summary of the report, Dimbleby said: “Our food system has just endured its biggest stress test since the Second World War.
“As Covid-19 swept through the UK, the entire machinery of supply and distribution had to be recalibrated, fast. The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole.
“There have, however, been heavy losses. Workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from Covid-19. Those in the hospitality sector have taken the biggest economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession.”
The full report can be viewed here. Part two of the National Food Strategy will be published in 2021, with a focus on a comprehensive plan for transforming the food system.