The documents are being published before the government finalises its first rethink of food strategy since the Second World War, due for publication this autumn, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Environment minister Hilary Benn put forward the argument for a reassessment of food supply in economic, public health and environmental terms.
“Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises,” said Benn. “While we know the price of our food, the full environmental costs and the costs to our health are significant and hidden.”
“We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.”
In a BBC interview this morning, Benn put this in more concrete terms saying that Britain needed to produce more of the food it consumes and become less reliant on imports.
The minister also encouraged people to ignore best before dates and judge for themselves if food is still good to eat in order to prevent waste.
At present the government is still in the ideas phase and is seeking views from all stakeholders in the food supply chain, including industry.
Today it launched an online discussion, Food 2030, to ask farmers, manufacturers, retailers, health providers and consumers what the UK food system should look like in 20 years time.
Food 2030 contains a number of discussion topics on the future of food including climate change, access and affordability, and research and innovation. The deadline for submissions is 16 October.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents the UK food industry, welcomed the move. Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness Andrew Kuyk said: “It’s great that the government is waking up to the importance of these debates.”
But Kuyk also urged the government to turn debate into action and to involve industry in the process.
One of the reports published today was the UK Food Security Assessment which gave an upbeat assessment of the UK food system but said challenges are emerging, particularly regarding sustainability and the environment.
The report reflected on the sustainability of the current state of play in various food sectors, and the likely situation in five to ten years time. Here the FDF criticised the government for not looking far enough ahead.
“The published food security assessment looks only at the next five to 10 years, which is not sufficient to reflect the longer term risks we already know are out there,” said Kuyk.
Alongside the security assessment, DEFRA published a scorecard style assessment of UK food supply to measure progress across several indicators including eco-efficiency, essential resources, and economic performance and resilience.
The government also issued a progress update on last year’s Food Matters report, which was a precursor to today’s reports and the food strategy document to be published later this year.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) expressed that a number deadlines had been pushed back.
Food policy director Andrew Opie said: “Today’s government paper admits that a number of projects identified a year ago in Food Matters will not deliver on time. Simply moving the dates, in some instances by years, doesn’t inspire confidence.”