Government Food Strategy – Feedback’s response.
The government is failing to take necessary action to improve our children’s health, regenerate our natural world and tackle climate change
Along with many other civil society groups working in the progressive food and farming, we at Feedback are deeply disappointed by the lack of ambition in the new Government Food Strategy, and dismayed and angry that the government is failing to take the necessary action to improve our children’s health, regenerate our natural world and abate greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are the reactions to the strategy from our experts in different policy areas.
Martin Bowman, Feedback’s Food Waste expert
Three and half years after it was promised in the 2018 Waste and Resources Strategy, the government has finally released a consultation on introducing mandatory food waste reporting for larger food businesses. Any further delay or dilution will seriously jeopardise the UK’s ability to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030. We now urge the government to implement ambitious mandatory farm-to-fork food waste reporting as soon as possible and we invite businesses and civil society to join us.
Firstly, the government must hold firm to its commitment to introduce mandatory reporting; we are extremely concerned to see a weaker alternative proposed to “enhance current voluntary agreements”, when a decade of experience shows that voluntary reporting hasn’t worked.
Secondly, the government must ensure food wasted on farms is within scope of the mandatory reporting. Farms are currently excluded from the UK’s food waste reduction targets due to lack of data. Until this is fixed, waste will continue and farmers will suffer in silence.
Thirdly, the government must not futher delay businesses reporting their food waste another three years until 2025 – businesses who already have access to this data should report immediately in 2023, and all other businesses should report by 2024.
Finally, medium-sized businesses must be included within measurement as otherwise most businesses in the farm and catering sectors will be excluded from scope.
Not only that, in the same Waste and Resources Strategy of 2018, the government also promised a consultation on introducing mandatory food waste reduction targets. This promise didn’t make it into the Government Food Strategy and the government has instead indicated to us that this won’t happen until a few years after mandatory reporting is up and running. This means food waste reduction targets could arrive in 2027 or 2028 at the earliest, if at all. Shockingly, this is nearly a decade after the government promised action, and leaves only a few years before 2030, when the UK is meant to have met the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste. We urge the government to introduce mandatory food waste reduction targets for food businesses alongside the mandatory food waste reporting.
Krysia Woroniecka, Feedback’s Sugar expert
Instead of making a meaningful contribution to solving our health and environmental crises, the Government Food Strategy makes out that we have largely arrived at where we need to get to: celebrating high self-sufficiency in processed food and animal products, previous (and largely failed) healthy eating programmes and the charitable actions of food manufacturers. Indeed, with no trace of irony, the paper goes as far as to praising the Weston Foundation as one of several (along with the Rowntree and Cadbury Foundation) that have made contributions to communities and diets. However, it fails to mention that the foundation makes its money, amongst other dubious sources, from the UK’s oversupply of sugar through its ownership of sole beet processor, British Sugar.
The white paper admits that the voluntary sugar reduction programme has had mixed progress, at best. Yet it proposes no new solutions and does nothing to address the availability of sugar in the UK; currently three times the maximum safe consumption level for the nation.
Despite the statistic that 40% of children are overweight or obese, the white paper implies that sugar reduction has largely already been dealt with via the soft drinks levy and voluntary sugar reduction program.
In short, the strategy misses the point entirely on sugar and this lack of action to improve our children’s health is truly shameful.
Lucy Antal, Feedback Food Justice expert
Rather than committing to doing something about the fact we now have 31% of all children living in poverty, this paper fails to support an additional 1.5 million children with free school meals as recommended by Henry Dimbleby. Very little is offered beyond the already existing Holidays Activities and Food (HAF) programme, which is itself underfunded, and the Healthy Start scheme, which, following digitalisation, is now failing to reach eligible families. Instead, the status quo of eligibility based on households earning less than £7,400 a year remains.
The opportunity to create those much vaunted Levelling Up options is missed. The consultation emphasised the importance of giving all the public equal access to affordable healthy food. That’s been pushed off to the Health Disparities paper due who knows when? Moreover, the onus is once again placed on individual choice and education, rather than addressing the issues of availability. Perhaps the concept of living in a food desert (as some 77% of residents of one area of Merseyside do) is an alien one. But it is a real problem for too many.
There’s one mention of hunger in this paper and that’s in relation to food aid overseas. It may be unpalatable to those in government to think about hunger in relation to their own citizens, but with an increase of 81% in people regularly accessing food aid in five years and over 7.1 million admitting to skipping a meal because they cannot afford to eat, the stark reality is, our citizens are hungry and those numbers will only increase as the cost of living (or surviving) continues to grow.
Lia ní Aodha, Feedback’s fisheries and aquaculture expert
On most topics, the Government Food Strategy omitted Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations. Aquaculture, on the other hand, wasn’t mentioned at all in the Dimbleby report, but features in the final strategy in the form of an absurd nod to farmed fish as part of the solution to protein with lower environmental impact. Well, this is what one is left to imagine the Government has in mind when it wrongly states innovation in aquaculture will help boost production in the seafood sector without adding pressure on fish stocks. As with the rest of the report, however, details are scant (while technofixes abound), and we can only read between the lines and assume what is meant here is farming more carnivorous fish – the ones that eat fish which could have nourished people instead.
Farmed salmon is, of course, the UK’s largest seafood export by value, destined for high-end markets around the world. Given farmed salmon’s continued dependence on wild fish for feed, one would be hard-pressed to find a more illogical “longer-term” measure, as espoused in the leaked document, “to support a resilient, healthier, and more sustainable food system that is affordable to all.” Our research at Feedback indicates farming salmon reliant on wild fish for feed is a highly inefficient way to produce seafood, both in terms of wild fish populations and human nutrition. The last publicly available figures indicate the production of 179,000 tonnes of Scottish Atlantic salmon required 460,000 t of wild-caught fish. Almost 80 per cent of these could have been eaten by humans instead. Eat more fish, they say, it’s an important source of micronutrients. Most (more than half, in some cases up to 99 per cent) of the valuable micronutrients available in ‘feed fish’ (e.g., sardines, herrings, sprats) are lost when fed to farmed salmon! Meanwhile, Britain exports most of the sardines caught off its coasts to be sold on the continent.
While the government recognises, UK has- for now at least- a high degree of food security, p populations along the coasts of West Africa, where small oily fish to feed the growing fish farming industry are oftens caught, are not so lucky. Perhaps the Government truly believe that, rather than an excellent example of the deep inequities in the global food system, farming fish like salmon is a way of addressing global food insecurity. Let them eat fish? Time to start exporting Scottish salmon to West Africa, a region currently facing its worst food crisis in a decade? After all, harnessing export opportunities and supporting the (big) agri-food industry appears to be the core objective of the strategy, apparently regardless of the principles set out in the 2020 Fisheries Act.
Natasha Hurley, Feedback’s meat expert
It’s frankly astonishing that the Government Food Strategy fails to tackle meat production and consumption in the UK, against the recommendations of its own expert advisers.
As Henry Dimbleby’s report made clear, our current appetite for meat is unsustainable: more than three-quarters of UK land under food production is used to graze livestock or produce crops to feed to animals. The Government’s own Climate Change Committee has advised we must reduce the amount of meat we eat by 50% in order for the UK to reach net zero targets and to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Livestock is already responsible for about 14.5% of the total anthropogenic emissions and, if current trends continue, the global livestock industry will be using up almost half the world’s 1.5°C emissions budget by 2030 – meaning that urgently restricting and reversing the growth of the livestock sector will be essential to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis.
The government has many tools at its disposal to drive the shift towards low-carbon diets, including regulation, planning for factory farms and public procurement. It has chosen not to deploy any of these. The strategy was an extraordinary opportunity for climate leadership from the government, instead, it is marching us towards climate chaos.
The climate case for reducing meat is unequivocal: the failure of the government to take any action to support meat reduction is a shocking abdication of its climate responsibilities. The ambitious reduction targets set last year to great fanfare will not be met, and tragically, the government appears remarkably unfussed.
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