July saw the publication of the much-anticipated National Food Strategy’s (NFS) second chapter – The Plan. Headed by Henry Dimbleby, the report provides an extensive insight into our current food system and its detrimental impact on both human and environmental health. Although there has been much debate over recent years, this report marks a significant milestone as it provides the government with 14 recommendations to select from and implement which will bring about improvements to our food system.
The Plan provides some solutions to achieving the earlier government publication of the Sixth Carbon Budget targets where the climate change committee placed our food choices at the heart of the matter. The sixth carbon budget highlights that greenhouse gas emissions, although reduced across many sectors including heating and transport, agriculture and our food systems have failed to achieve any mitigations. It further stipulates that we have no option but to reduce intakes of meat by 35% and dairy by 20% if we are to have any hope of achieving our net zero carbon footprint target by 2050. It also highlights the health and environmental advantages of replacing meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives.
The NSF wants to see measurable improvements in the UK diets by 2032. In particular, reductions in HFSS foods and meat accompanied by ambitious improvements in intakes of fruit and vegetable and fibre.
The NSF’s 14 recommendations focus on making changes in four key areas of our food system
Escape the junk food cycle to protect the NHS: highlighting how our continuing obsession with HFSS foods is not only driving poor health but stripping the planet of its resources and driving climate change. The three specific recommendations are to implement a food sugar and salt tax (something which Boris is known to have little appetite for), the ambitious target of implementing food and nutrition education from nursery right through to reinstating the A-level and mandatory reporting by all large food companies on their food and drink sales.
Reduce diet-related inequality: this includes extending the free school meals eligibility, expanding the healthy start scheme as well as setting up ‘Community Eatwell’ programmes via GP centres to help lower income groups.
Make the best use of our land. Freeing up more land to wildlife and afforestation will significantly help mitigate carbon emissions. A key emphasis to this plan is to ensure adequate financial support for farmers to make the transition to more sustainable farming feasible.
Create a long-term shift in our food culture: this includes significant investments in food technology for alternative meat proteins as well as improvements in farming practices and stronger government procurement rules in favour of healthy and sustainable foods.
Watch out for January 2022 government announcement
The government has to respond within 6 months of the publication with a white paper, stating clearly which of the recommendations it is going to implement and how.
This November will bring together all nations to help debate how best to tackle climate change at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). This important event is taking place in Glasgow from the 31st October through to the 12th November 2021. Seen as the game changer for global food systems, the COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement to prevent global temperature rising beyond 1.5oC and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Not only will solutions to carbon emissions be the focus but also how we use land and reverse the damage to the ecosystem – which is intrinsic to our food system.