The research from the group found the total UK supply of fruit and vegetables before food waste amounted to 367g per day compared to the 400g intake recommendation

Britain does not produce or import enough fruit and vegetables for its population to get five portions a day, according to data from the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) research group.

The research from the group, which includes NGO The Food Foundation among its members, found the total UK supply of fruit and veg before food waste amounted to an average of 367g per day per person. However, the recommended intake for an adult is five portions, equal to 400g per day.

The average intake was considerably lower at 298g per day, with only one in 10 children and a third of adults eating enough fruit and veg, the research revealed.

The UK currently domestically produces 35% of its total supply of fruit and veg requirements (3.1 million Mt/year) with net imports making up the other 65% (5.7 million Mt/year). But this figure was before food waste was taken into account, with an estimated 23% of UK-grown fruit and veg wasted after leaving the farm.

If everyone ate seven portions a day, the researchers found, fruit and veg supply would need to increase by about 7.8 million Mt/year after considering food waste at current levels.

SHEFS has warned the dependence on imports put “food security at risk by exposing us to cost and supply fluctuation” while domestic producers were suffering increased costs, threatening the viability of their business.

“As the government takes forward the development of the Horticulture Strategy for England – which is now long overdue – we show it must aim to increase both production and consumption of British fruit and veg,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation.

“This will make a significant difference to the nation’s health and help our farmers. It’s a win-win.”

There are also concerns that those on lower incomes are disproportionately impacted, as in the year to October 2022, according to the report, the cost of fruit increased by more than 10% and vegetables by more than 15%.

The Grocer previously reported vegetable consumption had fallen by 7.5% in response to the cost of living crisis, as consumers swapped purchases and this impacted lower-earning households more significantly.

The researchers have suggested there are four key priorities for policy makers.

These include protecting low-income consumers by expanding schemes such as free school meals and Healthy Start, and by ensuring fruit and veg are available from “food desert” convenience stores in areas of high social deprivation.

They also recommended supporting increased fruit and veg consumption through initiatives and advertising, alongside making better use of government to ensure all taxpayer-funded meals in schools, hospitals, prisons and government offices included three portions of fruit and veg.

The final recommendation to policy makers was to boost domestic fruit and vegetable supply to ensure the UK is not reliant on other nations.

This was an international issue as when food waste was factored in, the world only produces 82% of the amount recommended to be consumed (based on the five portions a day recommended by WHO), the report suggested.

“SHEFS research is about identifying food system changes that would be beneficial for both people’s health and the environment,” said Professor Rosemary Green, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, co-project lead of SHEFS.

“Increasing production and consumption of fruit and veg is vital to achieving these goals, and should be prioritised now.”