The National Food Strategy outlines a comprehensive plan to get us all eating better over the next decade, from a salt and sugar tax on processed foods to better support for farmers to move to more sustainable models, and teaching school children about food and how to cook. The report also warns that we need to cut consumption of all meat by 30% and increase fruit and veg by the same amount.
In short, the publication of the 288-page report by Henry Dimbleby gives much-needed impetus on the need to transform our food systems from the farm gate to the school gate, if we are to meet the challenges of reaching net zero, restoring nature and ensuring everyone can eat healthily and sustainably.
The NFS provides fourteen recommendations to achieve four clear objectives to:
- Escape the Junk Food Cycle and protect the NHS
- Reduce diet-related inequality
- Make the best use of our land
- Create a long-term shift in our food culture
This incredibly comprehensive strategy has much that's on Eating Better’s wishlist from the government, highlighted in our Better by Half Roadmap. Under each of the four pillars, sit a number of recommendations, key for Eating Better being:
- A tax on salt and sugar in processed foods, with some of the money being used to help lower income families get fresh fruit and veg.
- Introducing mandatory reporting for large food companies, where supermarkets would publish their protein sales.
- 'Eat and Learn’ Initiative for schools, where children learn about food and how to cook.
- Trial a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme, supporting those on low incomes to eat better.
- Guarantee agricultural payments to at least 2029 to support farmers to make more sustainable use of land, while ensuring ELMS are generous enough to incentivise farmers to move away from intensive production.
- Create a rural land use framework, where some land is given over to nature and carbon capture, some is used for nature-friendly farming and the rest is for food production.
- Food standards to be defended in any future trade deals and the government to outline how that will be done.
- Strengthen government purchasing powers to ensure the £2.4B spent every year on food for schools, hospitals and other public organisations is healthy and sustainable.
In addition to the recommendations, the plan outlines how our diet will need to change over the next decade if we’re to improve our health, meet climate commitments and restore nature:
Reaction from the alliance: -
Simon Billing, executive director at Eating Better said: “A clear and achievable target on meat reduction recognises that only by cutting back on all meat to sensible and sustainable levels, will we be able to tackle the impact our current overconsumption has on climate change, nature loss and our own health. As a nation, rebalancing our diets with a lot more veg and less meat, will enable us to eat better meat from the best of British farms with the highest environmental and animal welfare standards. Government can’t trade away these standards - it has a responsibility to ensure that safe, healthy and climate-friendly food is accessible and affordable for everyone.”
Helen Browning OBE, CEO at the Soil Association said: "The evidence is clear that dietary change will be needed to enable more sustainable farming, and that includes eating less meat overall. The wider uptake of agroecology, as recommended in the strategy, would see ruminants reintroduced into rotations and animals playing an important role on the land, but our diets must adapt for such an approach to be viable. We will need to eat much less industrially farmed meat, which can drive deforestation and land use change through its reliance on imported feed crops, and ensure that the meat we do eat is produced in regenerative and higher welfare systems that support biodiversity. The debate in farming shouldn’t be about whether this is so, but about how to make this transformation quickly and fairly, for both farmers and citizens."
David Edwards, Director of Food Strategy at WWF said: “The National Food Strategy is our first chance in 75 years to create a food system that is good for our planet and our health. The government must satisfy public appetite by setting ambitious standards to achieve this.
“The way we produce our food is key to the UK reaching its net zero and nature restoration targets, so we must bolster funding of nature-friendly farming and set core environmental standards to stop the import of products which rely on the worst farming practices for nature, are already banned in the UK, and which undermine British farmers’ efforts towards more sustainable agriculture.
“We should not waste this golden opportunity to give the British public the affordable, sustainable and healthy food they want and deserve.”
Clare Oxborrow, Senior Sustainability Analyst at Friends of the Earth said: “This bold and timely report acknowledges an uncomfortable truth long ignored by Whitehall: that industrial meat production is a key driver of the climate and nature crises.”
“To ignore this reality any longer would be indefensible. That’s why the government must now help to radically transform the way we eat and farm, and quickly. Diets high in fruit and veg, which contain less but better quality meat must be championed and incentivised as the optimum for both planet and people.”
“Reduced demand for meat would also free up some of the land needed to restore our depleted wild spaces, allowing for large areas to be reforested, helping to remove climate-wrecking emissions from the atmosphere too.”
Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive, School Food Matters said: “There is so much to be excited about in the National Food Strategy. Henry Dimbleby and his team have spent two years listening and learning from families to work out the best way to support them to live healthier lives. We wholeheartedly support this bold and ambitious strategy, particularly the recommendations to extend free school meals, to commit to at least three years funding for the Holiday Food and Activities programme and to reframe food education as subject worthy of the same attention as English and Maths."
Joan Edwards, director policy and public affairs, The Wildlife Trusts said: “Global food production is devastating our planet’s natural systems, both on land and at sea, driving biodiversity loss, widespread deforestation, and the pollution of our soils and rivers.
Here in the UK, we need to help reverse these trends, with farmers supported to produce food in a way which works with nature instead of against it and ensure that any future trade deals do not undermine these standards. Food production relies on a healthy natural world, rich soil in the fields, bees and insects pollinating crops, and rivers providing clean water. The Wildlife Trusts welcome the progressive new National Food Strategy as a bold roadmap for ambitious action to build a sustainable, healthy, and fair food system.”
Anna Jones, Greenpeace UK head of forests and food, said: “The fact we need to markedly reduce how much meat we produce and eat in the UK may be hard for some to swallow, but there’s no disputing it. Record breaking fires raging across Brazil at this very moment are driven by UK food retailers investing in industrial meat production as forests are destroyed to grow animal feed for British chicken and pigs. Indigenous Peoples are losing their land and their lives, animals like the jaguar are being driven to the brink of extinction and the risk of future pandemics is increasing by the second.
“Critically, the report identifies a need to achieve meat reduction in a fair way for farmers with the right support to transition to sustainable production. But the 30% goal is just a taste of what’s needed to repair a food system that’s pushing our planet to breaking point.* On this especially, we would urge the government not just to listen, but to go further, faster.”
Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive at Sustain said: “This is an incredibly ambitious report which covers many aspects of how our food is produced and presented to us. We all deserve to eat well in a way that keeps us healthy and is kind to the planet. But currently, too many of us can’t do that and we live in places where it’s hard to access good, fresh food. Obesity rates are rocketing, and health inequalities are widening. Furthermore, all too often the food sold to us is destroying our natural world and is cruel to animals. This is not a problem of education or individual will, this is a systemic problem that requires leadership from our government. We welcome Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy and its call for fundamental change. We urge the Government to respond to its recommendations in its forthcoming White Paper.”
Martin Lines, Chair of Nature Friendly Farming Network said: “Henry Dimbleby's report is a step in the right direction towards a sustainable UK farming system where nature-friendly practices can bring balance to food, farming and nature. If the UK is to meet their legal carbon targets and restore its biodiversity then this is key. But to get there, we need the government to protect farmers so they won't be undercut by lower standards of cheap imports, where the environmental footprint is exported elsewhere. Farmers need a sufficient pathway where they are supported and fairly rewarded in the transition to nature-friendly, climate-safe farming, at the same time as generating sufficient return for the food they produce.”
Dr Tara Garnett of The University of Oxford said: “The strategy offers a really positive vision of a greener, fairer, healthier food future. Most of the right elements are in place there - a land strategy that integrates biodiversity protection with net zero objectives and food production; a focus on health promoting redistributive taxation, a target for meat reduction, strengthened public procurement standards and more. But all these gains risk being undermined by damaging trade policies that prioritise cheap food over sustained and sustainable transformation. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health: “Our food system needs to be completely re-engineered if we are serious about putting an end to diet-related ill-health. This is a crucial step in the right direction to improve health, and also to reduce the burden of poor diet that falls hardest on the most deprived communities. We strongly urge the Government to heed these recommendations if they truly want to ‘level-up society’."
We urge the Government to build on the strategy in the white paper. These aims will also need to feed into: the review of the Government Buying Standards (and wider aims to improve public procurement); ensuring trade deals don’t undermine environmental standards and climate commitments; momentum by retailers and food caterers to further promote sustainable diets. Much to do in the next six months, but this plan is a strong and ambitious foundation. Read the full report here.