Experts say UK Food Strategy ‘fails to deliver’

Authors of a letter published in Nature Food say the Strategy fails to deliver the system-wide change that is needed. 

Rear view of female farmer sowing seeds on farm - stock photo

A letter published today (Tuesday 19 July) in Nature Food says the Government’s Food Strategy falls far short on the measures and urgency required for the transformative change the food system needs.

Written by consortium directors from the 'Transforming UK food systems' programme, including from the Institute for Sustainable at the University of Sheffield, the authors say a whole-systems approach to the challenges of food security and sustainability is needed. 

While the Government Food Strategy has some positive features, the authors argue it fails to acknowledge the scale of the challenge we are facing: an existential crisis in climate change and food-related diseases.

Henry Dimbleby’s Independent Review of the UK food system was published last year, providing what he called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to reshape the food system.

Of the Independent Review’s 14 proposals, only one is fully addressed in the Government’s Strategy (Recommendation 5 on funding for children’s holiday activities and food programme) and even this is a previous commitment, announced in December 2021.

The authors state that the most prominent among these absences is the proposed tax on sugar and salt. The Dimbleby Review recognised this as the policy with the greatest potential to stimulate system change and break the “junk food cycle”.

Its absence from the Government Food Strategy signals both a lack of engagement with the evidence and a lack of ambition with regard to achieving their goals, the authors argue. Despite highlighting the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in the Dimbleby review, ‘government seems unwilling to use fiscal measures to encourage further industry reformulation.’

Similarly, while Dimbleby set a clear target to reduce meat consumption by 30 per cent over the next ten years, the Government Food Strategy makes no such commitment.

The authors criticise the Government’s failure to include interventions on areas of evidence identified by the Dimbleby review, including the food system’s contribution to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution, the collapse of aquatic wildlife and climate change, and the adverse effects of highly processed food on human health.

The Strategy takes ‘a piecemeal approach with only lip service to Dimbleby’s systemic analysis’, lacking a joined-up, systems-based approach and failing to address the scale of the problems with the urgency required.  

Professor Peter Jackson, Co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Food, said: “The Government’s long-awaited response to Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of the national food system is a major disappointment, failing to deliver the system-wide change that is so urgently needed. 

“The need for transformative change is compelling’ as researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food and others have shown. There is no time for prevarication."

The correspondence was written by: 

  • Bob Doherty, The School for Business and Society, University of York
  • Peter Jackson, Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield
  • Guy M. Poppy, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton
  • Carol Wagstaff, Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading
  • Martin White, MRC Epidemiology Unit, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge

and is available here.

Acknowledgement: The authors are all funded by the UKRI-SPF ‘Transforming UK food systems’ programme but are writing here in a personal and independent capacity.