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'The government's 'Five-a-day' message has failed.'

More peas please, we're British: Food Foundation launches campaign to boost vegetable intake

By Louis Gore-Langton , 30-Nov-2016
Last updated on 30-Nov-2016 at 13:44 GMT2016-11-30T13:44:55Z

 ©iStock
©iStock

Rising prices, fewer nutrients and an overall fall in domestic production are reducing Britain's vegetable intake, says think tank Food Foundation as it launches a campaign to investigate industry's role in improving vegetable intake.

The new 'Peas Please' campaign from the London-based foundation is aiming to bring together the food industry, civil society organisations, policymakers and other stakeholders in order to identify the most important actions required in each sector.

In its first report briefing  this month, several key issues and opportunities for reform were identified, which 'Peas Pleas' will continue to investigate.

Top down reform

Robert Hinks, policy and research officer at Food Foundation, told us encouraging consumers to alter their own eating habits is not enough to tackle public health issues, and that the government’s ‘5-A-Day’ message, which started in the early 2000’s, has failed.

Brits now buy the same amount of vegetables as in the 1970s.

Hinks said: “Educating individuals on healthy eating choices simply can’t work when so many other factors push our behaviour in the opposite direction. The onus must instead be placed on government and industry to take concerted action to make it easier for people to eat healthily.”

Brexit challenges and opportunities

The cost of arable land in the UK has increased threefold over the past decade, agricultural rents are increasing and horticulturalists are usually tenant farmers receiving the lowest bracket of subsidy.

Whilst prices naturally vary across the country and at different retail outlets, a slight decline has been seen in the cost of vegetables since 2013. However, Food Foundation noted evidence of an increase in inflationary pressure with the UK vote to leave the European Union.

Hinks said that the fall in value of the sterling would increase food prices across the board, but with a particular reliance on imports for vegetables, the public may turn further towards calorie-rich processed foods and ready-meals.

However, he added that “Brexit also offers an opportunity for horticulture. Horticulturalists currently receive the smallest amounts from subsidies of all farmers, and the creation of a new ‘UK farming policy’ sensitive to health and environmental concerns, could see improvements in the sectoral support offered to this vital industry.”

Promoting vegetables

Advertising for vegetable products is rare, just 1.2% of money spent on food adverts goes to promoting vegetables, and whilst this figure has remained roughly the same for the past 15 years, spending on adverts for confectionary items such as sweets and biscuits has risen from 18.8% to 22.2%.

Hinks said: "The food industry, marketers, broadcasters and others must work together to redress the underpromotion of veg and other healthier foods." 

Ready meals

Adding vegetables to ready meals, snacks and food outlet takeaways would increase the proportion of vegetable consumption without requiring any change in consumer behaviour.

The ready-meal market has largely expanded in recent years, taking advantage of this popularity could be a very convenient method. Creating on-the-go vegetable products is not easy; Hinks pointed out that studies have shown only 4% of sandwiches contain some type of plant-based fillings.

Drop in nutrition

Certain studies have shown a drop in the nutritional value of vegetables over time, whist research into this is still relatively lacking, researchers point to a reduction in calcium, magnesium and copper levels.

The reasons for this are unclear but experts suggest that farming techniques which focus on high yield, disease resistance, cosmetic factors (developing shape and colour according to consumer demand) and changes in soil value, hydroponic techniques and storage conditions could be behind the drop.

As greater quantities of vegetables are grown abroad, control over these variables is hard to maintain.

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