Farming News - National Food Strategy report highlights Covid & Brexit

National Food Strategy report highlights Covid & Brexit

29 Jul 2020
Frontdesk / Arable / Livestock

Part One of the two part National Food Strategy led by Henry Dimbleby does not present a comprehensive plan for transforming the food system: that will now follow in Part Two.

Image of vegetables in a casserole dish

Instead, it contains urgent recommendations to support this country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period on 31 December 2020.

Our food system has just endured its biggest stress test since the Second World War. As COVID-19 swept through the UK, the entire machinery of supply and distribution had to be recalibrated, fast. The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole.

There have, however, been heavy losses. Workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19. Those in the hospitality sector have taken the biggest economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession. Across the wider population, the wave of unemployment now rushing towards us is likely to create a sharp rise in food insecurity and outright hunger.

At the same time, the virus has shown with terrible clarity the damage being done to our health by the modern food system. Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of COVID-19. This has given a new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK (90,000 a year). That is vastly more than the death toll from traffic accidents (1,780 a year) and almost as fatal as smoking (95,000) . This is a medical emergency we can no longer afford to ignore the report concludes.

Henry Dimbleby said the report was also intending to include recommendations on limiting the advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods but the Government unilaterally proposed the same policies as part of its New Obesity Strategy and is long overdue. Part Two, will include a comprehensive recommendation on what the government can do to ensure that the food the state pays for directly – for example in schools, hospitals, prisons, and in government offices – is both healthy and sustainable.

In response to the publication, Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“I would like to thank Henry Dimbleby and his team for their work over the last year to examine our food system and the vital role it plays in all our lives.

“Over the last few months our food industry has shown tremendous fortitude in dealing with the unprecedented challenges of coronavirus. Our entire supply chain has worked around the clock to keep the nation fed, while government has invested record levels to support the most vulnerable in our society.

“But we know there is more to do, and we will carefully consider this independent report and its recommendations as we emerge from the pandemic and build a stronger food system for the future.”

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:

“Today’s report marks an important first step in guaranteeing high quality food for everyone in the UK, regardless of their background or circumstances.

“The economic shock created by Covid-19, the UK’s exit from the European Union and the continued threat of climate change have created a unique set of risks and opportunities for the UK’s supply chain.  The publication of part one of the National Food Strategy could not be more timely.

“British farmers work hard to feed the nation, delivering food produced to some of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards in the world.  We are pleased to see recognition that any future trade deals must uphold these standards, and that import tariffs should only be lowered for countries that themselves adhere to high standards.”

Read the full report or a summary of the key points here: