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National Food Strategy Part 2: reaction

The report, which was published today (15 July) makes a total of 14 recommendations to Government​, including a salt and sugar tax on processed products and foods sold through foodservice channels.

Henry Dimbleby – author of the 290 page document – has provoked a range of responses, a selection of which are outlined below.

Professor Susan Jebb, chair, Food Standards Agency

“The National Food Strategy report deserves to be widely read and deeply considered by everyone with responsibilities for any part of our food system. Its compelling narrative focuses attention on the urgent challenges facing the food system and how we must work together, across government and industry, to create a system which is good for the health of people and the planet.  

“I welcome the report, including its recommendations to expand the role of the Food Standards Agency. The FSA is an independent regulator, trusted to make sure food is safe and is what it says it is. Our work is led by science and evidence, but places the interests of consumers at the heart of everything we do. We look forward to discussing the report with government and other partners and collaborating with them to create a resilient, healthier and more sustainable food system.” 

Food & Drink Federation’s chief scientific officer Kate Halliwell

“This report will help inform the wider conversation around the future of the UK’s food and drink industry. Food and drink manufacturers welcome the intent to bring forward measures which will help to increase access and affordability of food and drink for children and families on lower incomes.​ 

“In contrast to this, a salt and sugar tax will ultimately impact those families who are already struggling to make ends meet, by making food and drink more expensive. After many years of cost pressures, businesses in our sector are already operating on very tight margins, and any further costs would simply have to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher food prices. 

“These taxes will not drive reformulation. Food and drink manufacturers have been voluntarily lowering fat, salt and sugars in recipes for decades as well as reducing portion size, but it takes time to change much-loved products. Furthermore, the Government’s proposed advertising ban and promotions restrictions would limit the ways in which companies can let families know about exciting new options. 

“It is hard to view the proposals that the taxes raised will pay for additional health plans, with anything but scepticism. The same promise was made ahead of the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy, but was quietly dropped shortly afterwards.

“We look forward to contributing our own ideas to DEFRA​ [Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs], including via the Food and Drink Sector Council report due in September. We also look forward to seeing the Government’s White Paper in six months’ time which will have considered a wide range of inputs.”

Richard Harrow, chief executive, British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF)

“The National Food Strategy is a unique opportunity to shape what food means to us and our society.

“It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations are adopted in the Government’s promised White Paper and if the views of the food industry are considered. At the start of the pandemic the Johnson administration recognised the importance of our industry and listened to our concerns and suggestions. As things have started to return to normal, they have returned to their old approach of largely ignoring many of the industry’s concerns. 

“From the pre-launch briefing I have seen I am concerned that it does not take into account what the consumer wants. Rather, it appears to be taking the stance of knowing what’s best for them and I am sceptical about how this approach will be received by the public. I can only hope that Government will make good on its aim to meet carbon reduction targets through green technologies while maintaining people’s freedom of choice. 

“I am also concerned that the proposed introduction of a 6% salt tax reported in The Observer threatens to put increased pressure on food businesses who are already struggling to get back on their feet after lockdown. Many are dealing with crippling staff shortages and the costs of reformulation are a burden many are simply unable to shoulder.”

Elena Walden, policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe

“Until now, the burden of cutting meat consumption has too often been placed on individuals – so it’s refreshing to see the National Food Strategy focus instead on making sustainable alternatives the default choice. Plant-based and fermentation-made options can deliver all the flavour of meat at a fraction of the environmental cost – creating thousands of green jobs and enabling people to keep eating the foods they enjoy.

“Investing in this sector is no-brainer if the government wants to meet its climate targets without enforcing drastic diet changes. Ministers must deliver Henry Dimbleby’s plan to make the UK a world leader in sustainable proteins.”

Dr Russ Tucker, co-founder and chief technology officer, Ivy Farm

“Our national diet has to change but rather than cutting back on meat there is another way – backing cultured or ‘lab-grown’ meat. We warmly welcome Henry Dimbleby’s call for the Government to provide meaningful funds for innovation and we would urge ministers to take the potential of cultured meat seriously. It’s real meat, but with a far lower carbon footprint.

“As Henry Dimbleby notes, the UK could miss out on thousands of jobs without the right support for innovation in food. Other nations such as Singapore, Israel and the US are moving ahead fast. At Ivy Farm we are working towards producing cultured meat at scale and hope to put it on consumers plates in the next 18 months. We strongly believe it will be the ‘tastiest alternative’.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters

“This food strategy should act as a wake-up call for us all that we need to value the food we eat. We need to put balance back in our diet and have a renewed emphasis on eating natural, whole foods; the kind British farmers produce in abundance.

“I agree that we should be supporting everyone to eat more fruit and veg, something our farmers can support by growing more, and there should be more focus on educating our children about valuing and understanding the food they eat and how it has been produced. However, it is important that we do not throw meat into one blanket category and that we all make a clear distinction between grass-fed British meat and cheap imports.

“We should be considering British meat in its own category, recognising its sustainability and dense nutritional value. After all, scientific and medical communities agree it is a key part of a healthy, balanced diet, chock full of essential vitamins and minerals. This strategy says major reform is needed of the food system. I would suggest we first look at the actions our government is taking by agreeing to trade deals that welcomes in imported meat in limitless amounts.

“This underlines the importance of domestic, high-quality, traceable food production for the nation’s health and wellbeing and the importance of demonstrating global leadership in this area. This is only something we can do if we all get behind a viable British farming industry. It will never be achieved by exporting our food production more and more to countries which don’t adhere to the same values or production methods.”

Chris Tyas, chair of GS1UK and NFU ambassador​ 

“Brexit and COVID-19 have accelerated the need for greater digitisation, traceability and transparency in supply chains across retail, food, and healthcare. As an NFU ambassador, I welcome the package of reforms set out to build a better food system for a healthier nation and as chair of GS1UK I see how our interoperable standards can support industry collaboration to solve some of these challenges .”

Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association​ 

“Everyone knows farming has to change if we are going to meet our climate and biodiversity goals and improve the health of the nation. But it is far, far easier said than done. Dimbleby offers a nuanced and imaginative way forward, one which harnesses the capacity of farmers and land managers to be a major part of the solution in tackling these challenges, while being fairly rewarded for their hard work and ingenuity. Many farmers are up for the challenge, but will need these recommendations to be implemented to make this possible.”​ 

Laura Sandys, chair of Food Foundation 

“We really welcome the strategy that is both very comprehensive and clear in its recommendations to Government. As the Food Foundation has said from its inception the challenges cannot be solved with piece meal one off initiatives but require deep systemic change.

“This whole system change is very well represented throughout the strategy. We were very pleased that our executive director, Anna Taylor was able to contribute so fully, working with Henry Dimbleby and the team over the last few years on. The strategy, having highlighted the problem and developed the solutions, now needs to be acted upon and we will be continuing our campaigning for system change.” 

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt​ 

“If ever there was an opportunity to finally transform our food system to save lives – this is it – especially the call for a landmark Salt Reformulation Tax which will make the UK the first country in the world to have a mandatory salt levy.  

Not only will the tax incentivise further innovation and reformulation, such as the use of potassium chloride – which is less harmful to health than conventional salt, it will build a better food system for a healthier nation. Previous attempts by the government to encourage voluntary reformulation have failed which is why more fiscal measures are urgently needed to address the country’s shocking health inequalities. The question is, are food manufacturers willing to make their food healthier by reformulating?” 

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer rights and food policy​ 

“The National Food Strategy’s ambitious proposals are long overdue and starkly set out the challenges the UK faces and how our current food system is harming our health and the planet. The Government must act on these recommendations and support consumers in making healthier and more sustainable food choices. ​ 

“The report highlights some key questions for the UK’s trade policy. Given the Government’s commitment to upholding standards and tackling climate change, it is essential that ministers heed the report’s warning on the worrying precedent the Australia deal could create and set core food standards for imports. The UK can’t work to transform its own food system and support people in making food choices that are better for their health and the environment if we allow foods to be imported that are produced to lower safety, environmental or welfare standards.”​ 

Stephanie Slater, founder and chief executive, School Food Matters 

“There is so much to be excited about in the National Food Strategy. Henry 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 eligibility for free school meals, to commit to at least three years funding for the Holiday Food and Activities programme and to reframe food education as a subject worthy of the same attention as English and Maths.”  

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