Health and sustainability groups have slammed the government’s “watered down” National Food Strategy, claiming it will fail to tackle food insecurity or get to grips with the obesity crisis.
A raft of organisations said the much-delayed 27-page document had proved the government did not have the will to take “bold action” to address the problems of the UK’s food system.
“The National Food Strategy proposed bold, evidence-based recommendations that would have had an enormous impact on improving our food system, making healthier food more available and accessible to all,” said Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt.
“However, today’s announcement makes it abundantly clear that our government is in the pocket of the food industry and has no desire to bite the hand that feeds it. We can only assume that Sajid Javid has chosen not to implement these tailor-made recommendations for political reasons, which completely contradicts the government’s levelling up ambitions.
“This shambolic decision will no doubt massively impact the NHS and the nation’s health, which will suffer the consequences and escalating cost of treating obesity.”
Barbara Crowther, director of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “This is not a comprehensive food strategy when it fails to offer any new measures to address either the cost of living or the human and social cost of obesity.
“On the one hand it acknowledges Henry Dimbleby’s analysis of a junk food cycle but on the other does nothing to address it, whilst key measures to rein in the industrial marketing power of the junk food industry are also now delayed.
“It leaves the forthcoming health disparities white paper with a huge task to get the obesity strategy and work to reduce dietary inequalities back on track. We can only hope that the health department can do a better job than the one in charge of food supply.”
Sustain CEO Kath Dalmeny described the proposals as “shamefully weak”, adding: “In the face of multiple crises in the cost of living, rocketing obesity, climate change and nature loss, the government was given crystal clear analysis and a set of recommendations by the Dimbleby food strategy, and has chosen to take forward only a handful of them.
“This isn’t a strategy, it’s a feeble to-do list, that may or may not get ticked.”
However, retail leaders gave a cautious welcome to the government’s plans. “We are supportive of any measures which secure long-term food security, address labour shortages, and invest in innovating the UK supply chain,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC.
“Consumers must be at the heart of the strategy, which means producing food that is healthy and sustainable but also affordable. We already have high environmental and animal welfare standards in this country, and any changes to improve these must be balanced against cost increases and affordability.”
Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, said plans in the strategy to set up a new ’Food Data Transparency Partnership’ could be a big step forward.
“It will go a long way towards tackling health disparities, providing clarity for consumers, and enabling trust and collaboration throughout food supply chains.”
Opie added: “Defra must ensure the data transparency project does not add unnecessary burdens and costs to the supply chain. Furthermore, as this is Defra’s strategy, the litmus test will be if it improves co-ordination across Whitehall and the rest of the UK. Without co-ordination we will continue to see increasing costs from divergence and new regulations.”