Reforming England’s food system could save the country £126bn, according to a recent government-commissioned report. The National Food Strategy proposes a raft of measures to shake up how food is produced and the kinds of diets most people eat.1
What is the National Food Strategy?
The project is the first independent review of England’s food system in 75 years.
It’s hoped the strategy will transform the way England produces, sources and consumes food in a bid to cut food poverty and improve health across the country, as well as maintaining UK food standards after Brexit.
Experts are aiming to make healthy food accessible and affordable to everyone, protect the food system from future shocks – such as pandemics or the climate crisis, and ensure the way we get our food does not damage the environment.
They are also exploring how to help the agriculture sector improve sustainability and resilience, while delivering jobs and supporting local economies through the food system.
The problems: inequality and the environment
The need for action is laid out in stark terms. Poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England, and the government spends £18bn a year treating obesity-related conditions. How we grow food accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and is the leading cause of biodiversity destruction.
To meet these challenges, the report calls for:
- “Escaping the junk food cycle” to improve general health and reduce the strain on the NHS.
- Reducing the gap in good diets between high- and low-income areas.
- Using space more efficiently to grow food so that more land can return to nature.
- Creating a long-term shift in food culture.
Measures proposed include the world’s first sugar and salt reformulation tax. The aim is to force manufacturers to make the foods they sell healthier (by reformulating recipes to remove sugar and salt), expecting to raise around £3bn for the Treasury in the process – with some of the money being used to expand free school meals and support the diets of those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
It also calls for food education to be central to the national curriculum, and for food standards to be protected in any new trade deals.
The Eatwell Guide, which shows what proportion of our diet should come from each food group, would be based not only on the healthiness of certain foods, but their environmental sustainability too. This reference diet would underpin government decisions and help ensure food policies are consistent with what is good for people and the planet.
To help meet both health and climate goals, fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30% by 2032, and fibre consumption by 50%, while consumption of food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will have to go down by 25%, and meat consumption should reduce by 30% .
Summary of recommendations
The recommendations in the National Food Strategy are grouped under four objectives:
- Escape the Junk Food Cycle to protect the NHS
- Reduce diet-related inequality
- Make the best use of the land
- Create a long-term shift in our food culture
The details of each recommendation can be found in chapter 16 of the report: www.nationalfoodstrategy.org.
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- National Food Strategy. An independent review for government. 2021.