Government bodies recognise the need for a unified voice and message, says Tim Lang

For years critics have argued that consumers are not helped by advice that can be contradictory and confusing. For example, should we eat fish? Yes, say nutritionists, but not endangered stocks, say environmentalists.

The challenge is whether food can meet multiple goals besides price, convenience and safety. For this reason, a new FSA report on 'integrated advice to consumers' is important. The FSA led a cross-Whitehall project to discuss and analyse the options, one of which was to add environmental and other advice to the Eatwell Plate. The FSA rejected this for reasons I find strange, plumping for other options. One is to create a single government website to integrate all advice. Another is to create a kind of super-gateway, leading consumers to other sites and data.

I see more options, but the good news is that the FSA, and other ministries, recognise the case for coherence. As the research found, there are many official sources. The Sustainable Development Commission review I led two years ago Green, Healthy and Fair: a review of Government's role in supporting sustainable supermarket food showed that government food policy had about 19 bodies speaking on 100 policy issues. A recipe for conflict, if not confusion.

The FSA seems more bothered by how to present a unified face than by clarifying a sustainable diet. I see these as two sides of the same coin as there's no point getting government unity around weak advice. The goal is not unity as such, but unified sound advice. Sweden has already done this, its National Food Administration giving strong advice and sending signals to producers to deliver this. Everyone needs to eat healthily in environmentally and ethically sound ways. All supply chains should address this.

Although some observers detect the creeping nanny state in this, the reality is that if we don't democratically define and deliver a sustainable diet, it will be left to corporations who already know they've got to face the problem themselves.

Tricky issues lie ahead. Recent briefings on food waste remind us that if waste is heftily cut then less food would be sold, and less throughput means raised costs.Meanwhile, does consumer advice work? Does it send strong enough signals or merely add to policy 'noise' that people then ignore? At least a UK discourse has begun. n

Tim Lang is Professor of Food Policy atCity University.

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