The UK has announced a first major review of its food system for 75 years as the industry deals with the challenges of an expanding population, food security, climate change and rising levels of diet-related disease.
The review will be led by Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
He told the BBC: “We have a food system that does extraordinary things. It employs one in eight of us, it provides us with an abundance of quality food at a price that would be astonishing to previous generations. At the same time it is making us ill, it is degrading the environment and there’s the question of food security. The idea is to create for the first time since the war a system that delivers all those benefits without those harms.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the review would be a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to cultivate a stronger food system for the future”.
Dimbleby’s recommendations will result in a new National Food Strategy, set to be published in 2020.
The review will investigate the entire food system, from field to fork, and consider what changes are needed to ensure that it:
- Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn;
- Is robust in the face of future shocks;
- Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation;
- Is built upon a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector;
- Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well-paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers;
- Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way.
‘There are urgent challenges with which we must grapple’
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. Its exports were worth £22.6bn in 2018, according to the Food and Drink Federation.
Dimbleby said: “No part of our economy matters more than food. It is vital to life and shapes our sense of identity.
“But there are urgent challenges with which we must grapple. Populations are growing, diet-related conditions are harming the lives of millions, and climate change is altering what our land will yield.
“From farmers in the field to chefs in the kitchen, over the next year I’ll be speaking with people from across the food chain to address these challenges and ensure everyone has a say in shaping the future.”
‘A unique opportunity to create the food system for the future’
Nestlé UK & Ireland CEO, Stefano Agostini, supported the move. He said: “This is a unique opportunity to create the food system for the future. Healthier and more sustainable; innovative and more productive; fairer and affordable for everyone.”
National Farmers' Union President Minette Batters said the review was long overdue.
“It is crucial that this strategy delivers for everyone – from food producers to families across the country, regardless of their income. Safe, traceable, affordable food that is produced to high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection is a right for all and British farmers should be the number one supplier of this,” she said.
“We are looking forward to working with his review to deliver a food system that is fair for all.”
‘We want to hear from the whole industry’
The public will get a say in shaping the future of the UK’s food system. Citizens’ assemblies will be set up nationally to help formulate the plan.
Food companies are also being urged to join the conversation by visiting www.nationalfoodstrategy.org or by tagging @food_strategy and using the hashtag #foodstrategy on Twitter.
“We’re keen to hear from the whole industry including caterers, farmers, food manufacturers and retailers. The whole point is that it is supposed to holistic and take a very wide view,” a spokesperson said.
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, added: “Today’s pledge to develop a ground-breaking new National Food Strategy will send a signal to the world that our food system needs radical reform in order to reign in its devastating impacts on our health and our planet. Let’s hope the businesses which put food on our plates see this as an exciting opportunity to be part of the solution.”