The Government Food Strategy Part 1 has landed
At the end of July 2020 the first section of the UK government food strategy was finally published. This is a massive deal as it’s the first time in 3/4 of a century that the government has studied the state of food production and consumption in the UK.
It’s a fascinating time to look in depth at how the food industry works and how we will cope under stress.
In addition, our responses to Brexit, climate change, food security, food poverty and obesity are all key to the ongoing debate around how we grow, manufacture and eat food in this country.
Henry Dimbleby, was in charge of putting this report together and although the food industry has broadly welcomed the recommendations many feel there is still much work to be done. However, some of the key observations are important including the need to ban certain high-fat high sugar advertising
The environment and health are two areas where the food industry is, in the main, found wanting.
Henry Dimbleby was particularly keen to stress how much more needed to be done saying that one of the issues is the food industry is often ‘Clothing itself and its products in false virtue’ This is a significant criticism levelled at the food industry by Dimbleby. So many of us will have been led to believe that a low-fat food is good for us when in fact it is laden with sugar.
Henry Dimbleby, was in charge of putting this report together and although the food industry has broadly welcomed the recommendations many feel there is still much work to be done. However, some of the key observations are important including the need to ban certain high-fat high sugar advertising. Marshmallows are a classic example of an ultra sweet treat being labelled as Low fat. Consumers don’t want to always be checking the small print. Time pressures and ease of purchase mean most shoppers want clear labelling that does not mislead. This is something that should be tackled as a matter of urgency.
Advertising high-fat and high sugar products should be restricted to a post 9pm watershed slot.
Yet some critics say this will only lead to a very modest lowering of calorific content for children. One might suggest that educating adults, who in the main make food decisions and choices for children, is important for them to understand the part their influence plays in a child’s diet.
In recent years there has been a move away from chocolate and sweets near tills but even more could be done. Of course, this will lead to criticism of a nanny state. However, you only have to look at films from the nineteen forties to see how constant food availability and a national lack of willpower has contributed to our ever expanding waistlines. I mean, people had ribs you could see back then! Will government intervention help or hinder our efforts at returning to normal national weights? It remains to be seen.
Ironically, although, there is massive food choice, convenience and availability there are still many people experiencing food poverty and malnutrition.
Photo Justus Mencke
It does seem likely that the food industry needs to take more responsibility. Highly processed and ultra-sweet food may well be restricted to ‘treat’ size to encourage us to purchase and consume healthier alternatives.
A nutritious diet should be the right of everyone in this country but this is far from the case.
The burden on our NHS system and the lack of attainment attributed to poor nutrition definitely requires a change of strategy. Extending the free school meals system to include 16-year-olds will go some way to help. However, having axed practical food, cooking and nutrition to all intents and purposes from the school curriculum, has created a generation whose kitchen skills and knowledge of nutrition is quite poor. Ensuring the end of holiday hunger will also help children to remain healthier and ready to learn.
A healthy start is also a key consideration within the new strategy and new parents will have a £4.25 voucher to spend on healthy food per week. This is for pregnant women and any household that is currently in receipt of universal credit. Nudging everyone to start thinking about making healthy choices will have an impact but I can’t help thinking these are very small measures when we see how easily someone can be ambushed by unhealthy food.
This opening salvo is just the beginning. Certainly, the food industry needs to think carefully about the role it plays in the nation’s diet. In addition, the challenges of Brexit, climate change, changes in work practices, supply chain, logistics and food security will cause many sleepless nights. We are in a state of flux and the challenges will be enormous. However, there is a small part of me that is excited by this change and opportunity to do things differently.
What do you think the biggest challenge for the food and drink industry will be in the next five years?
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