This government initiative sets the scene for debates that will shape producer and retailer policies, says Sue Davies
In the government's 2030 food strategy, we have a strategy setting out clear objectives for ensuring the security, safety, sustainability and health of our food that all government departments are signed up to.
It brings together many well-established issues, such as the need to be more proactive in removing the barriers to healthier food choices, and also recognises new pressing challenges, most notably the need to produce more food globally while reducing the environmental impact of food production. It emphasises the important role consumers have in creating demand, but is less specific on what we should demand. This is partly because some of the evidence is still evolving, but also because of the contentious nature of the issues. These include which foods we should eat more or less of, and what it makes sense to produce more of here socially, economically, environmentally and from a fair trading perspective.
There may not, therefore, be any immediate obvious impact on consumers, but in the longer term we should start to see the benefits of this more coherent approach. Clear advice about how to eat healthily and sustainably is promised, going beyond current messaging, which is largely about reducing waste. A 'healthier food' mark bringing together these aspects is also planned for public institutions, although initial proposals have been less than impressive.
But behind the scenes, the strategy is also intended to give producers, manufacturers and retailers a greater impetus to operate sustainably and help consumers do the same whether it is about sourcing fish or reducing CO2. We must ensure this is done in a responsible and meaningful way and that consumers are not misled by conflicting messaging and false claims.
More broadly, a greater focus on reinvesting and reversing the decline in food skills and innovation is likely to spark debates about what type of production we want, as well as old ones such as the role of GM.
The challenge for the 2030 strategy is ensuring that this is matched by a willingness to tackle the many trade-offs head on.
Sue Davies is chief policy adviser at Which?.