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Here’s how it could affect your health
In case you weren’t aware, an important report that has the potential to change the contents of your plate – and, with it, your health – has been published today. And it’s already left a sour taste in some people’s mouths.
The government’s own advisor has criticised the impending document as not in-depth enough to even be called a strategy.
Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of LEON restaurants (purveyors of those delicious breakfast egg pots, amongst other things) who was brought on board to help overhaul the food system in England, has told the BBC that only about half of his recommendations have been taken on.
This has far-reaching implications for the climate impact of our meals, as well as how easy and affordable it is to serve up nutritious dishes. Here’s your need to know.
The latest report in the National Food Strategy – which was commissioned back in 2019 – is due to detail plans for how England’s food system can be transformed so that more is grown or produced on home soil, to help protect against future economic shocks.
It’s ideal for both the environment and budgets – and is especially pertinent when you consider the outsize impact Russia’s war in Ukraine has had on the global food supply.
When it was first announced, Boris Johnson promised to prioritise farmers and food security. The Prime Minister explained that by ‘harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food – unlocking jobs across the country and growing the economy, which in turn will ultimately help to reduce pressure on prices’.
As such, the report had been expected to back greater investment into automated farming methods to improve productivity, and recommend that half of public sector food spending goes on products that are produced locally or certified to higher standards. So far, so sensical.
The government commissioned an excellent thinker, @HenryDimbleby, to write an excellent Food Strategy.
Then, clearly in response to corporate lobbying, it systematically junked his proposals.
Yet again, it has wasted everyone’s time and done nothing to address our urgent crises.
However, a draft of the report has been leaked ahead of the upcoming publication of the full version. Many have pointed out that it falls far short of its original aims and that only a limited selection of Dimbleby’s recommendations have been taken on.
The businessman had advised legislating for greater environmental and welfare standards in farming, as well as a 30 per cent reduction in Britons meat and dairy consumption. He had also called for action on obesity, along with a significant expansion of free school meals due to the cost of living crisis.
The most surprising criticism has come from Dimbleby himself, who was shown the final document and told The Guardian that the report was ‘not a strategy’ and noted that ‘there was nothing really there on health’.
Indeed, the government had failed to adopt his recommendation about taxing sugar and salt in processed foods, and using this to fund healthy food for those living in poverty.
Jake Shepherd, of the Social Market Foundation think tank, said: ‘The government’s food strategy is yet another missed opportunity to alleviate the UK’s growing obesity challenge. While the extent of the problem is articulated clearly enough [in the report], including the role of wider health inequalities, deprivation and the unaffordability of healthy foods in contributing to…obesity rates, there is little to be said in terms of concrete policy solutions.’
The government, of course, thinks that healthy eating is a matter of individual responsibility. If so, why have obesity rates gone up? And why increased inequality in childhood obesity? A food strategy needs to deal with inequalities in healthy eating. https://t.co/IsOeWnWo1s
The leaked report indicates the government has gone back on its other goals: pushing for fish farming despite it being less environmentally friendly and having no plan to reduce meat and dairy consumption – two things that present an outsize negative impact on carbon levels and climate change.
‘They have said we need alternative proteins but they have not mentioned the unavoidable truth that the meat consumption in this country is not compatible with a farming system that protects agriculture and sequesters carbon,’ Dimbleby also told The Guardian.
Nick Palmer, Head of Compassion in World Farming UK, agreed: ‘Britain needs a clear endorsement of radical action to transform British agriculture, tackle the climate crisis and deliver food security. That must include meat reduction and a commitment to a healthy, high-standard diet, that works for people, animals and the planet.’
‘It’s problematic that the sugar and salt tax have been axed from the strategy,’ says nutritionist Jenna Hope. ‘The introduction of the soft drinks levy [in 2018] led to a significant reduction in the [amount of] sugar in these drinks and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Consequently, taxing ultra-processed foods which are high in sugar and salt could have a similar impact.’
In my 30 year career as a Nutritionist, I have seen a lot of Government white papers relating to food and health. I have to say though, the Food Strategy White Paper released today is the most disappointing one of them all. Such a missed opportunity and at such a critical time. pic.twitter.com/Wm4wHNUc7j
Why does this matter? ‘Overconsumption of sugar and salt are significant contributors to impaired health, an increased risk of heart complications, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity,’ she explains. ‘Additionally, these ingredients can make foods highly palatable, which can lead to a further overconsumption of ultra-processed foods.’
The way Hope tells it, this lack of progress in reducing meat and dairy consumption also poses a threat not just to the planet’s health, but also our own.’While they are great sources of protein, iron, vitamins B12, calcium and phosphorus, they can be high in saturated fats and therefore we should moderate them in our diet.’
Food that’s grown locally can, she emphasises, actually be more nutritious than those that have been transported across the world. ‘Nutrients such as vitamin C degrade over time; the longer it takes to get fresh fruit and vegetables into the supermarkets, the higher the risk of the nutrients degrading.’
All things considered: it’s no wonder people are disappointed. Especially as the crises of climate, obesity and food poverty continue to grow – with the latter due to really bite this autumn.