Nutrition Opinion

National Food Strategy Part 2: positive but chances missed

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Buttriss: 'We need to change the way we produce and consume food'
Buttriss: 'We need to change the way we produce and consume food'

Related tags: Meat & Seafood, Ingredients & nutrition

Part 2 of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations to Government for a National Food Strategy, published on 15 July are ambitious and positioned to address the major challenges facing the food system: climate change, biodiversity loss, land use, diet-related disease, health inequality, food security and trade.

The narrative supporting the recommendations focuses on the harm being inflicted by our current food system on our health, particularly obesity, and on the environment. The aspiration of the report​ to improve health, protect our environment and build a better future for generations to come is very important. 

Food and Nutrition education in schools

The British Nutrition Foundation has championed education in food for decades, welcome the inclusion and support for more and better food and nutrition education in our schools and is pleased to see food education highlighted throughout this report.

We absolutely agree that food and nutrition in schools should be taken seriously​. 

A holistic approach to diet and environmental sustainability

The report emphasises the importance of bringing together environmental sustainability, diet quality and health as part of a joined-up food systems approach, and tackling inequalities.

This holistic approach has our full support but the breadth of the recommendations to support this ambition are disappointing in some respects.

As expected, sugar and salt feature, but opportunity has been missed to recommend strategies that encourage intake, regardless of income, of nutrients that we are relatively short of – particularly fibre, as well as some vitamins and nutrients. And there is little discussion about how to motivate people to rebalance diets in favour of more plants. This isn’t just about fruit and vegetables, as important as they are; wholegrain cereals, nuts and pulses are important too. 

Current UK diets are typically a long way from meeting existing nutrition and food-related recommendations. A recent analysis revealed​ that less than 0.1% adhere to all nine of the Government’s Eatwell Guide recommendations and less than a third adhere to at least five recommendations.

Dimbleby’s report calls for a national ‘reference diet’, yet it is already evident from the above analysis that adherence to the current Eatwell Guide, developed from a health perspective, could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 30%, so is a good place to start. 

The complexities of meat

It was refreshing to see the complexities associated with meat discussed, but the chapter appears not to acknowledge the broad nutritional contribution animal-derived foods make, beyond protein.

It notes that whilst most people already achieve the recommended 70g or less of red and processed meat per day, a third eat more, and that national meat consumption would fall by at least 15% and red and processed meat consumption by at least 27% if everyone complied with this advice.

The report sets a goal of a 30% reduction in meat consumption over 10 years to meet targets related to climate change (the 5th​ carbon budget and 30x30 nature commitment). 

In discussing a ‘protein transition’ linked to meat reduction, the report focuses only on protein and neglects to consider the many other nutrients that are essential for health and provided in bioavailable form by meat and other animal sources of protein.  This needs to be integrated as an important consideration.

Investment in research

The need to create a long-term shift in our food culture is crystal clear and the recommendation to create a National Food System Data programme has to be a priority in order to achieve this.

The report recommends investment of £1bn in research to create a better food system, including two What Works Centres, one on diet and another on farming methods. It will be vital that industry, farmers and academics work together to bring the greatest possible benefits to society.  

Nutrient-rich diets provide significant health benefits and we need to change the way we produce and consume food in order to make our food system more environmentally sustainable.

While many questions remain, there are changes we can make now that can benefit human health and the planet. These include eating a plant-rich diet with more wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and pulses, diversifying our choice of protein-rich foods to include more plant-based sources, and reducing food waste.

Judy Buttriss is director general of the British Nutrition Foundation

National Food Strategy Part 2: reactions

The National Food Strategy Part 2 has prompted a flood of reactions from across the food and drink supply chai​n. Some have criticised proposals for a salt and sugar tax, while big supermarkets have backed calls for mandatory reporting of various information including sales of products high in fat, salt and sugar.

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