Key recommendations on environmental improvement have been left out of the strategy. (Image: Pixabay)
The government has ignored a host of recommendations on improving food security and the environment in its new food strategy, drawing criticism from the strategy’s own lead adviser.
Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and lead non-executive board member at the department for environment, food and rural affairs, led a review of Britain’s food system last year, making recommendations on rewilding, reducing meat consumption and making healthy food more accessible.
Dimbleby’s recommendations aimed to improve food security and sustainability while improving health outcomes for the poorest.
According to reports on a leaked version of the strategy, only around 50 per cent of Dimbleby’s recommendations have been adopted, with key proposals around rewilding, taxing salt and sugar and meat and dairy consumption dropped from the strategy.
With Dimbleby saying the final result is “not a strategy” and Greenpeace calling it “worse than half-baked”, here are the key recommendations the government has dropped.
Introducing a salt and sugar tax
Dimbleby’s review of the food system suggested the introduction of a “sugar and salt reformulation tax” which would levy a fee on salt and sugar in processed foods.
The funds raised by the tax would be used to help low-income families access fresh fruit and vegetables.
The measure was proposed as a way to improve obesity in England, but has been left out of the government’s final food strategy, with the paper arguing that such a tax could have “unintended consequences”.
“Government intervention can cause unintended consequences. A drive to reduce portion size of chocolate bars has led to an increase in the sale and promotion of ‘multi-packs,'” the final strategy reads.
Expand free school meals
Dimbleby’s review of the food system was split into two parts, with part one recommending an expansion of free school meals to all children in families receiving universal credit up to the age of 16.
In part two of the review, this was revised, with Dimbleby recommending an increase in the earnings threshold for eligibility.
Increasing the threshold from £7,400 to £20,000 would ensure that 82 per cent of children in households with “very low food security” received free school meals, the report said.
The government’s final strategy ignored this recommendation, saying instead that it would “continue to keep free school meal eligibility under review”.
A recommendation to continue funding the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, however, has been taken on board, with a £600 million investment pledged for the coming three years.
The government also pledged to fund a pilot “Community Eatwell” programme to encourage healthier eating, as recommended by Dimbleby.
Reducing meat and dairy consumption
Meat and dairy are two food products with a high carbon cost due to the way that they’re produced.
In his review, Dimbleby called for a 30 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption to tackle climate change, in line with advice from the government’s climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee.
The government rejected this advice, however, neglecting to mention any measures to decrease consumption in the final strategy.
Making more plant-based options available
Dimbleby’s review noted that the government spends £2.4 billion every year buying food for schools, hospitals, the Armed Forces, prisons and government offices.
The report recommended that the government review its buying standards to make the food it buys for public settings more sustainable, with an increase in plant-based options in all these settings.
Reports suggested that compulsory vegan options in school were included in the food strategy, but the measure is not mentioned in the version now published on the government website.
Instead, the strategy commits to consulting on government food buying standards.
“Within the consultation we will propose that the public sector reports on progress towards an aspiration that 50 per cent of its food expenditure is on food produced locally or to higher environmental production standards,” the strategy says.
In his review, Dimbleby suggested a shake-up of land use in England, with a “three compartmental model” seeing some former agricultural land given over to rewilding and nature restoration projects.
A “three compartmental approach” would create what Dimbleby refers to as a “mosaic of different landscapes” with low- and high-intensity farmland coexisting with wilder landscapes.
The government rejected this approach, however, saying:
“It is possible to target land-use change at the least productive land, to increase the environmental benefit from farming and to increase yields with minimal impact on food production.
“Therefore, our aim is that farmers will broadly maintain domestic production at current levels as we deliver our climate and environmental goals.”
Funding for making farming more sustainable has also reportedly been slashed, with an £800m-per-year fund to encourage farmers to change agricultural land into wetlands, woodlands and forests reduced to £50m per year.
The government said its strategy would back UK farmers by “helping to increase domestic production, spread[ing] jobs and grow[ing] the economy”.
Speaking to The Guardian, however, Dimbleby said the government had ducked several important recommendations for making farming more sustainable and healthy food more readily-available.
He said: “Yet again the government has ducked the issue of how we don’t just import food that destroys the environment and is cruel to animals – we can’t create a good fair farming system, then export those harms abroad. I thought the government would address this but it didn’t.”
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests, Greenpeace UK, said of the strategy:
“By ignoring climate scientists and its own experts in favour of industry lobbyists, the government has published a strategy that, ultimately, will only perpetuate a broken food system and see our planet cook itself.”
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“Out-of-date farming policies have caused degraded soils, polluted rivers, and extreme loss of wildlife including the disappearance of insects and pollinators. Surely taxpayers’ money should be used to reward farmers to grow food in a way that is good for nature, rather than harming it – otherwise the food strategy will ultimately fail.”
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