National Food Strategy Part 2: reactions

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

British entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby is the author of the National Food Strategy
British entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby is the author of the National Food Strategy

Related tags: Supply chain, Ingredients & nutrition, Regulation, Technology & Automation

The National Food Strategy Part 2 has provoked mixed reactions, with big grocery retailers backing calls for mandatory reporting of key information, while others have criticised sugar and salt tax proposals.

The report, which was published today (15 July) makes a total of 14 recommendations to Government​. ​These include introducing a salt and sugar tax on processed products and foods sold through foodservice channels and investing £125m in researching and developing alternative proteins. Other suggestions include improving land use by farmers, improving education about food and diet, making healthier diets more accessible to all ages and defining minimum standards for trade and a way to protect them.

Henry Dimbleby - author of the 290 page document - has provoked a range of responses, a selection of which are outlined below.

One proposal is to introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies on food waste and sales of: high fat, sugar or salt products excluding alcohol; protein by type and origin; fruit and veg; fibre, saturated fat, sugar and salt; total food and drink. Tesco and other big grocery retailers have already thrown their weight behind the suggestion, with Asda and Morrisons both confirming they are reviewing the report and plan to comment shortly.

Grocery retailers back mandatory reporting

Tesco store aisle

Jason Tarry, Tesco UK & ROI CEO​ 

"Tesco was the first retailer to publish its food waste data, and this year we have begun sharing the details of our protein sales, so we support the strategy’s call for mandatory reporting requirements, and with it the aim of delivering affordable, healthy, sustainable food for all.”​ 

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Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO​ 

We are supportive of the mandatory reporting recommendations laid out in the National Food Strategy and believe that better transparency across the food sector will develop industry insights that positively influence customer health outcomes.”​ 

James Bailey, executive director of Waitrose & Partners​ 

“Waitrose & Partners wholeheartedly supports the ambition for greater transparency of the British food system. We are committed to providing our customers with healthy and sustainable food to help them eat a balanced diet. ​ 

Greggs Roger Whiteside

Roger Whiteside, Greggs CEO

“We support the introduction of mandatory reporting across our sector which will create a level playing field for the largest food providers and help deliver a step change in the health of the nation’s diet.”​ 

Richard Walker, managing director, Iceland Foods​ 

“Transparent mandated business reporting will ensure customers are able to judge the true context of the commitments businesses make and the progress being reported. This covers the health and nutrition of the food we sell, our total carbon footprint and major environmental issues - such as how much plastic packaging we use and the risk of deforestation in our supply chains.”​ 

Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food​ 

“Co-op has longstanding commitments to open and transparent reporting on its progress towards increasing healthy food promotions and tackling food waste and climate change. We welcome these new recommendations which could revolutionise food reporting and provide greater transparency but, importantly, bring about a consistent approach across the sector.”

Among other proposals, the paper calls for expanding the role of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to cover health and sustainable food as well as food safety. It also suggests that the FSA should be able to hold the Government to account and that local authorities should have a legal obligation to develop their own food strategies.

professor-susan-jebb FSA

FSA chair, professor Susan Jebb

“The National Food Strategy report deserves to be widely read and deeply considered by everyone with responsibilities for any part of our food system. Its compelling narrative focuses attention on the urgent challenges facing the food system and how we must work together, across government and industry, to create a system which is good for the health of people and the planet.  

“I welcome the report, including its recommendations to expand the role of the FSA. The FSA is an independent regulator, trusted to make sure food is safe and is what it says it is. Our work is led by science and evidence, but places the interests of consumers at the heart of everything we do. We look forward to discussing the report with government and other partners and collaborating with them to create a resilient, healthier and more sustainable food system.”

Patrick Coveney, chief executive officer, Greencore​ 

“Providing our customers with healthy, sustainable food whilst reducing waste and minimising our impact on the environment is at the core of Greencore’s purpose and sustainability strategy. We welcome these proposals which will provide consumers with a clear view of the progress that is being made by the UK food industry.”​ 

Food & Drink Federation’s chief scientific officer Kate Halliwell

“This report will help inform the wider conversation around the future of the UK’s food and drink industry. Food and drink manufacturers welcome the intent to bring forward measures which will help to increase access and affordability of food and drink for children and families on lower incomes.​ 

“In contrast to this, a salt and sugar tax will ultimately impact those families who are already struggling to make ends meet, by making food and drink more expensive. After many years of cost pressures, businesses in our sector are already operating on very tight margins, and any further costs would simply have to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher food prices.

These taxes will not drive reformulation."

“These taxes will not drive reformulation. Food and drink manufacturers have been voluntarily lowering fat, salt and sugars in recipes for decades as well as reducing portion size, but it takes time to change much-loved products. Furthermore, the Government’s proposed advertising ban and promotions restrictions would limit the ways in which companies can let families know about exciting new options. 

“It is hard to view the proposals that the taxes raised will pay for additional health plans, with anything but scepticism. The same promise was made ahead of the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy, but was quietly dropped shortly afterwards.

"We look forward to contributing our own ideas to DEFRA​ [Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs], including via the Food and Drink Sector Council report due in September. We also look forward to seeing the Government’s White Paper in six months’ time which will have considered a wide range of inputs.”

Richard Harrow-BFFF-chief-executive

Richard Harrow, chief executive, British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF)

"The National Food Strategy is a unique opportunity to shape what food means to us and our society.

"It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations are adopted in the Government’s promised White Paper and if the views of the food industry are considered. At the start of the pandemic the Johnson administration recognised the importance of our industry and listened to our concerns and suggestions. As things have started to return to normal, they have returned to their old approach of largely ignoring many of the industry’s concerns. 

"From the pre-launch briefing I have seen I am concerned that it does not take into account what the consumer wants. Rather, it appears to be taking the stance of knowing what’s best for them and I am sceptical about how this approach will be received by the public. I can only hope that Government will make good on its aim to meet carbon reduction targets through green technologies while maintaining people’s freedom of choice. 

"I am also concerned that the proposed introduction of a 6% salt tax reported in The Observer threatens to put increased pressure on food businesses who are already struggling to get back on their feet after lockdown. Many are dealing with crippling staff shortages and the costs of reformulation are a burden many are simply unable to shoulder."

Jon_Aug2018edit

Jon Poole, chief executive officer, Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST)

"IFST fully endorses ‘creating a better food system’ as one of the first long term missions of the Government’s Innovation Strategy. A competent, innovative and resilient UK food system with strong foundations in science and technology will ensure food security, profitability and a highly skilled workforce. 

IFST have long advocated mandatory food education in schools and supports investment in food education. We urgently need to empower citizens to eat healthily and sustainably. Integrating food and diet into both public health and STEM curricula will build better food understanding and show how food science and food technology enable the food system to transform agricultural produce into affordable, safe, shelf-stable and nutritious food products. 

The report correctly identifies the challenges to public health caused by the increased consumption of high fat, salt and sugar foods whilst recognising that processed foods also play a role in a healthy balanced diet. Alongside alternative protein sources, more efficient food processing to retain more nutrients and reduce waste will be critical in addressing the challenges identified in the report as needing urgent attention. 

IFST would like to emphasise the need for investment in the whole food system, not only agriculture. The report stresses the importance and need for data. An initial baseline needs to be derived across the entire food system and all data collected will require consideration and contextual interpretation. In addition, IFST feels that there was a lack of emphasis on food safety and integrity. To avoid unintended consequences, data gathered, and standards set should also integrate food safety. 

Applying a systems approach addressing strategic priorities with cross-Government alignment on food, will give the best chance for successful transformation. Achieving food security with continued high standards requires talented and dedicated players, including skilled food scientists and technologists."

Elena Walden, policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe

“Until now, the burden of cutting meat consumption has too often been placed on individuals – so it’s refreshing to see the National Food Strategy focus instead on making sustainable alternatives the default choice. Plant-based and fermentation-made options can deliver all the flavour of meat at a fraction of the environmental cost – creating thousands of green jobs and enabling people to keep eating the foods they enjoy.

“Investing in this sector is no-brainer if the government wants to meet its climate targets without enforcing drastic diet changes. Ministers must deliver Henry Dimbleby’s plan to make the UK a world leader in sustainable proteins.”

Dr Russ Tucker, co-founder and chief technology officer, Ivy Farm

“Our national diet has to change but rather than cutting back on meat there is another way – backing cultured or ‘lab-grown’ meat. We warmly welcome Henry Dimbleby’s call for the Government to provide meaningful funds for innovation and we would urge ministers to take the potential of cultured meat seriously. It’s real meat, but with a far lower carbon footprint.

“As Henry Dimbleby notes, the UK could miss out on thousands of jobs without the right support for innovation in food. Other nations such as Singapore, Israel and the US are moving ahead fast. At Ivy Farm we are working towards producing cultured meat at scale and hope to put it on consumers plates in the next 18 months. We strongly believe it will be the ‘tastiest alternative’.”

NFU President Minette Batters 2020 Portrait

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters

“This food strategy should act as a wake-up call for us all that we need to value the food we eat. We need to put balance back in our diet and have a renewed emphasis on eating natural, whole foods; the kind British farmers produce in abundance.

“I agree that we should be supporting everyone to eat more fruit and veg, something our farmers can support by growing more, and there should be more focus on educating our children about valuing and understanding the food they eat and how it has been produced. However, it is important that we do not throw meat into one blanket category and that we all make a clear distinction between grass-fed British meat and cheap imports.

“We should be considering British meat in its own category, recognising its sustainability and dense nutritional value. After all, scientific and medical communities agree it is a key part of a healthy, balanced diet, chock full of essential vitamins and minerals. This strategy says major reform is needed of the food system. I would suggest we first look at the actions our government is taking by agreeing to trade deals that welcomes in imported meat in limitless amounts.

“This underlines the importance of domestic, high-quality, traceable food production for the nation’s health and wellbeing and the importance of demonstrating global leadership in this area. This is only something we can do if we all get behind a viable British farming industry. It will never be achieved by exporting our food production more and more to countries which don’t adhere to the same values or production methods.”

Chris Tyas, chair of GS1UK and NFU ambassador​ 

“Brexit and COVID-19 have accelerated the need for greater digitisation, traceability and transparency in supply chains across retail, food, and healthcare. As an NFU ambassador, I welcome the package of reforms set out to build a better food system for a healthier nation and as chair of GS1UK I see how our interoperable standards can support industry collaboration to solve some of these challenges .”

Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association​ 

"Everyone knows farming has to change if we are going to meet our climate and biodiversity goals and improve the health of the nation. But it is far, far easier said than done. Dimbleby offers a nuanced and imaginative way forward, one which harnesses the capacity of farmers and land managers to be a major part of the solution in tackling these challenges, while being fairly rewarded for their hard work and ingenuity. Many farmers are up for the challenge, but will need these recommendations to be implemented to make this possible."

Barratt, Susan 01

Susan Barratt, chief executive officer of IGD

“We support the direction of travel set out in the National Food Strategy, which aligns with IGD’s own ambition to see an acceleration in the progress towards a more sustainable food system and to make healthy and sustainable diets easy for everyone. 

“We also welcome the NFS’s ambition to involve the whole industry in this challenge, and for providing clarity around the required dietary shift at a national level. In addition, we recognise the value of the open and transparent approach that the NFS recommends.  

“While many of the recommendations from the National Food Strategy will prove challenging, for parts of the food system, we believe they are a constructive step in the right direction. We know from our conversations with businesses across our industry that there is a real desire to find a clear way forward and to help deliver a long-term positive change to Britain’s food system. 

“There is now more to be done, as the government works through the details of how the recommendations will be implemented in a way that is both practical and achievable for our industry. IGD stands ready to play our part in that process; we have a unique ability to bring stakeholders together from across the whole food and grocery industry. We are ready to work with organisations across the food system to help them navigate through the implications of the National Food Strategy.” 

Christine Watts, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) chief comms and market development officer

“We welcome publication of the National Food Strategy and a number of the recommendations highlighted, particularly improved food education in schools.

“Education forms a key part of our reputation work, helping to ensure that we have informed consumers of tomorrow. The Food - a fact of life (FFL) programme, in partnership with the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), covers three fundamental areas of education – where food comes from, cooking skills and healthy eating.

“Via the FFL we trained more than 1,000 trainee and practising teachers in 2020/21 through our conferences, webinars and workshop, reaching more than half a million pupils. Post-event evaluation showed 91% of teachers have used our training to update their lessons and our resources were downloaded more than 1.5 million times.

Meat continues to have an important role in our nutritional health."

“I feel it’s important we recognise that meat continues to have an important role in our nutritional health and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet, which has been underlined by our We Eat Balanced campaign. Pivotal to this are our farmers who are united in their ambition to bring high-quality, naturally nutrient-rich produce to people and are continuously driving towards a carbon-neutral food industry with high welfare standards at its heart.

“We also welcomed one of the key recommendations that in order to improve farming the AHDB, has piloted the development of what works centre for agriculture in the form of the Evidence for Farming Initiative (EFI).

“We have been piloting the development of an EFI that is a What Works for Agriculture (WWA) centre aimed at helping farmers and growers to work towards net zero carbon emissions. We plan to complete the review of the feedback for the pilot phase and to seek further funding to upscale the project so that it can cover more than just net zero. This is an exciting initiative for the future.”

Gary McFarlane 1

Gary McFarlane, director for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Northern Ireland​ 

“This report, although billed as a 'National' Food strategy, applies only to England as food is a devolved matter. However, the challenges which the report seeks to address are shared across the UK.

We are aware of work in both Northern Ireland and Wales that occupies the same space as this Food Strategy for England, but we would urge all jurisdictions across the UK to collaborate on this crucial issue. This work must be joined up.

"Not only must the four governments of the UK work together, there is also a need for the UK to work with our nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, with whom we share not only a land connection, but also a highly integrated food supply chain. This is even more important considering the future challenges around food supply and the need for a much more circular food economy for these islands in the future.” ​ 

"When it comes to the implementation, it is not just the FSA that has key roles. Local government and environmental health practitioners always have been and are the backbone of our food standards. They are uniquely placed with all the right skills to assist businesses, playing the crucial role that they will need to play to ensure a transition to healthier and more sustainable diets. 

"Likewise, other aspects of local authority work, such as planning, leisure services, and community development, also have key roles to play. We welcome and support the recommendations in the strategy around investment. That investment however needs to also extend to the local authority sector to harness and support the innovation they can bring along with ensuring adequate capacity.”

Laura Sandys, chair, Food Foundation 

“We really welcome the strategy that is both very comprehensive and clear in its recommendations to Government. As the Food Foundation has said from its inception the challenges cannot be solved with piece meal one off initiatives but require deep systemic change.

The challenges require deep systemic change."

"This whole system change is very well represented throughout the strategy. We were very pleased that our executive director, Anna Taylor was able to contribute so fully, working with Henry Dimbleby and the team over the last few years on. The strategy, having highlighted the problem and developed the solutions, now needs to be acted upon and we will be continuing our campaigning for system change.” 

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt​ 

"If ever there was an opportunity to finally transform our food system to save lives – this is it – especially the call for a landmark Salt Reformulation Tax which will make the UK the first country in the world to have a mandatory salt levy.  

Not only will the tax incentivise further innovation and reformulation, such as the use of potassium chloride – which is less harmful to health than conventional salt, it will build a better food system for a healthier nation. Previous attempts by the government to encourage voluntary reformulation have failed which is why more fiscal measures are urgently needed to address the country’s shocking health inequalities. The question is, are food manufacturers willing to make their food healthier by reformulating?" 

Food-manufacturers-slammed-for-failing-to-embrace-hybrid-labels_wrbm_small

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer rights and food policy​ 

“The National Food Strategy’s ambitious proposals are long overdue and starkly set out the challenges the UK faces and how our current food system is harming our health and the planet. The Government must act on these recommendations and support consumers in making healthier and more sustainable food choices. ​ 

“The report highlights some key questions for the UK’s trade policy. Given the Government’s commitment to upholding standards and tackling climate change, it is essential that ministers heed the report’s warning on the worrying precedent the Australia deal could create and set core food standards for imports. The UK can’t work to transform its own food system and support people in making food choices that are better for their health and the environment if we allow foods to be imported that are produced to lower safety, environmental or welfare standards.”​ 

Stephanie Slater, founder and chief executive, School Food Matters 

“There is so much to be excited about in the National Food Strategy. Henry and his team have spent two years listening and learning from families to work out the best way to support them to live healthier lives. We wholeheartedly support this bold and ambitious strategy, particularly the recommendations to extend eligibility for free school meals, to commit to at least three years funding for the Holiday Food and Activities programme and to reframe food education as a subject worthy of the same attention as English and Maths."  

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