Call for food minister as general election approaches

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Industry stakeholders are calling for political parties to put food standards at the heart of their policies
Industry stakeholders are calling for political parties to put food standards at the heart of their policies

Related tags: Food safety, Regulation

The appointment of a food minister is one of the proposals to political parties outlined by industry stakeholder groups ahead of the 12 December general election.

Issuing its Manifesto for Environmental Health on 19 November, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) included within it the creation of a new minister for food. The organisation claimed the position would be needed to oversee the National Food Strategy, the consultation for which was launched in August.

When the consultation was launched, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said the strategy would build on the work under way in the Agriculture Bill, the Environment Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Industrial Strategy and the childhood obesity plan. The scope of the review is England, but relationships with the devolved administrations, the EU and other trading partners are being considered.

CIEH recommendations

  • Commit to maintain and improve food safety and standards as the UK leaves the EU;
  • Create a new Minister for Food to oversee the National Food Strategy;
  • Make the display of Food Hygiene Ratings by food businesses in England mandatory;
  • Establish new transparent and independent environmental regulators for all UK nations;
  • Commit to legally-binding air quality targets in line with World Health Organisation guidelines;
  • Introduce a mandatory national registration scheme for landlords and agents in England;
  • Make energy efficiency a priority for housing across all UK nations.

The review for the National Food Strategy will look at what is working well already and the role of new technology to revolutionise food supply. This embraces innovations from vertical farming and robotics to carbon-neutral manufacturing and crops that tackle climate change.

Another key CIEH recommendation was that UK food safety and standards should be maintained post-Brexit. This was one of the three pillars of the National Farmers Union’s (NFU’s) general election manifesto, which it made public on 12 November, and was also included in the Food Ethics Council’s (FEC’s) pre-election list of asks.

The NFU called for

  • a commitment that future trade policy would not allow the imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal to produce in the UK, undermining British farm businesses;
  • a long-term investment programme to support British farming;
  • and a guaranteed access to a skilled and competent workforce.

If we crash out of the EU without a deal or introduce a trade policy that allows imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal to produce here, delivering on our ambitions suddenly becomes very challenging,”​ said NFU president Minette Batters. ​That is why we are urging all political parties to commit to protecting our standards of production in future trade policy as one of our headline asks in this manifesto.”

The FEC said it was looking for parties standing in the election to ​ensure trade agreements did not undercut domestic standards​ and maintain and further strengthen UK food and farming standards, including farm animal welfare.

What the FEC wants party manifestos to include

1. Ensure the UK leads the way on delivering international commitments – including, but not limited to, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Right to Food and the Paris Climate Agreement;

2. Ensure trade agreements do not undercut domestic standards; maintain and further strengthen UK food and farming standards, including farm animal welfare;

3. Require all public sector food to contribute to healthy, sustainable diets and to be humanely and fairly produced;

4. Give citizens a genuine say in food policy;

5. Introduce regulation and incentives to transform our food environments, plus invest in public health;

6. Embed food sustainability into education and learning;

7. Support sustainable farming and fishing – including investing in UK horticulture, supporting the transition to ‘only the best’ livestock, meat and dairy and promoting a public money for public goods approach in the UK;

8. Introduce measures to tackle power and fairness concerns in the food system;

9. Ensure food and farming research done for the public good – at home and overseas – has farmers and citizens at its heart;

10. Commit to an ambitious National Food Strategy and learn lessons from the Devolved Administrations, e.g. introduce an equivalent to Wales’ Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Scotland’s Good Food Nation Bill.

The organisation also called for citizens to have a genuine say in food policy and for support for sustainable farming and fishing, such as the transition to ‘only the best’ livestock, meat and dairy.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it wanted to see five core policies in parties' manifestos:

FDF: five core policies

•  Prioritise the closest possible UK-EU trade and regulatory relationship; 

• Tackle obesity and other dietary concerns through an holistic, evidence-based partnership which reflects real lifestyles; 

•  Support our efforts to make food production and consumption more environmentally sustainable, and help tackle climate change; 

• Work with us to develop home-grown talent and boost skills to equip the industry for its future; and, 

• Drive productivity with the Food and Drink Sector Council, the leading vehicle for partnership with Government.

FDF chief executive Ian Wright said: "We know the next Government – of whatever political hue – will want to tackle issues like obesity and plastic packaging. To do that successfully, it will need to work effectively with the industry and the FDF. 

“The food and drink manufacturing industry touches every person, every community and every constituency in the country. It’s the UK’s largest manufacturing industry. Its success is integral to the country’s wider economic prosperity, with an impact far beyond London and the South East. 

“Strategic partnerships with government, including the Food and Drink Sector Council, have been long over-due but are finally delivering. The next administration must seize upon this once in a generation opportunity to develop these relationships and build the food and drink industry our people demand and deserve.”

Related topics: Brexit, Business Leaders

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