The UK could make it easier for shoppers to make healthier and more sustainable food choices by going further on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, country of origin labelling and traceability than is currently required under EU regulations, said Sue Davies.
To date, food and farming policy has primarily been focused on a narrow range of issues, rather than those of concern to consumers – such as health challenges, said Davies. With Brexit, she added, “we have a real opportunity to tackle some of these challenges”.
“We need to be having a much more joined-up approach to re-examining our own food and policy and, hopefully, finally getting to grips with the challenges,” she said at the British Nutrition Foundation’s 50th anniversary conference titled: ‘Who is shaping the food choices of the future?’, held last month at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
‘Getting to grips with the challenges’
“People want help from the government, retailers and manufacturers to make it easier to make healthier choices,” she said.
Davies stressed the importance of engaging consumers in any changes introduced following Brexit. It was important to understand people’s concerns about new technologies, said Davies.
These ranged from chlorine-washed and lactic acid-washed chicken to irradiated wheat and genetically modified foods, she added.
She also raised the fear of EU food law being weakened when it was repatriated to the UK and she called for the “precautionary principle” to be retained.
“When dealing with scientific uncertainty, we need to make sure that we understand what the scale of the risk might be,” she said.
Food safety and food integrity
Davies pointed to the many systemic challenges facing the food supply chain. These ranged from obesity and diet-related disease to wider issues around food security, sustainability and food waste, together with food safety and food integrity, she added.
While the UK had made progress on reformulating food and drink to make it healthier, introducing traffic light nutrition labelling to make healthier choices easier and restricting promotions of unhealthy food to children, there was still much more to do, Davies argued.
“Unfortunately, there are still some big manufacturers not using the traffic light nutrition scheme in in the UK,” said Davies.
“Marketing of foods to children is an area where we still need to make progress.” She called for more price promotions on healthy foods rather than those high in fat, sugar and salt.”