National Food Strategy, part two

Date : 21 July 2021

James Walton

Chief Economist

Part Two of the National Food Strategy (NFS) for England has now been published.

Part One, published in 2020, dealt primarily with reducing the impact of COVID-19; it recommended a limited package of measures intended to provide food security to vulnerable households.

Part Two is an in-depth and independent, review of the entire UK food and drink system, the most comprehensive review of policy in this area in many years.

What it says

Part Two of the NFS recognises the remarkable achievements of the global food and drink system in providing affordable, convenient food for a fast-growing human population.

However, it also recognises that the current system is unsustainable and that the food provided is often associated with poor health outcomes.

In particular, it notes that the free market creates incentives which can trap businesses in a “junk food cycle”, which they cannot break without government intervention.

The NFS therefore makes use of the opportunities provided by EU Exit and COVID-19 to propose a re-working of the entire food and drink system.

The Plan

Part Two includes fourteen specific recommendations, arranged under four broad headings, covering every part of the supply chain from farmers to final consumers:

  • Escape the “junk food cycle”, protect the NHS:
    • Introduce a sugar and salt tax, levied on manufacturers / importers
    • Introduce reporting on food sales and waste for larger companies
    • Launch a new Eat And Learn initiative for schools, to improve food knowledge
  • Reduce diet-related inequality:
    • Extend eligibility for free school meals
    • Fund the Holiday Activity And Food programme for three years
    • Expand the Healthy Start scheme
    • Trial a Community Eat Well scheme for those on low incomes
  • Make best use of land:
    • Guarantee the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029
    • Create a rural land use framework based on the Three Compartment model
    • Define minimum standards for trade
  • Create long-term shift in food culture
    • Invest £1bn in innovation to create a better food system
    • Create a National Food System data programme, to track progress
    • Use government procurement to drive change
    • Set clear targets, develop relevant legislation

If enacted, this plan would create radical change in the function of the UK food and drink system. This would move the UK into global leadership on health and sustainability – but not without impact on businesses.

The suggested levy on salt and sugar has attracted wide media coverage – this is aimed at changing the behaviour of businesses, but may have inflationary impact if the cost were passed on to shoppers.

Mandatory reporting of the types of food produced and the amount of waste generated would also be an important innovation, with potential to motivate change via transparency and competition.

Development of a new Three Compartment model for land use is perhaps the most radical idea, however, since - even without compulsion - it implies development of a central plan for optimising land use nationally.

What now?

The NFS is, at present, a set of recommendations, rather than government policy. Government is currently reviewing the report and will issue a White Paper in six months’ time, outlining proposals for change. Note that many elements of the NFS plan would need to be implemented via legislation.

How can IGD help?

IGD supports the NFS’s ambition to build a better, more sustainable food system and a healthier nation.

We are ready to work with organisations across the food system to help them navigate through the implications of the NFS. You can read our full response here.

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