Government Food Strategy: Much ado about nothing, an empty plate at a time of hunger and uncertainty

Sustainable Food Places on the Government National Food Strategy reponse out today.

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The long-awaited Government response to the National Food Strategy is published today. Despite a few positive measures and a recognition of the value of food partnerships, it is conspicuous by the number of recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s strategy it chooses to ignore. This leaves a serious question mark on how England is going to tackle the huge spike in food insecurity, rise in obesity and the ongoing climate and nature emergency.


Positive measures such as a commitment to a land use strategy by 2023, alongside consultations on public sector procurement and mandatory reporting against a set of health indicators for food businesses are welcomed. However, the Government Food Strategy is surprisingly thin and weak when it comes to mandatory action or primary legislation, leaving action instead to existing Acts or voluntary action by the food industry. This pales in comparison to the approach in Scotland, where a Good Food National Bill is going through its third Stage in Parliament and includes measures such as an independent statutory food commission and statutory obligations for national and local food plans.


Under section 2.2, ‘Encouraging healthier and more sustainable dietary choices’, the Government Food Strategy includes:

“Local Food Partnerships have already brought together councils and partners from the public sector, voluntary and community groups, and businesses to reduce diet-related ill health and inequality, while supporting a prosperous local food economy. We will learn from their approaches and work to understand and identify best practice in addressing food affordability and accessibility to healthy food. As part of our levelling up mission to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy, government will identify the areas most in need of this insight, and Defra will work with local authorities and food charities in these priority areas.”

While it recognises the value of food partnerships, it is disappointingly weak in terms of action to support this approach and ways to ensure funding and backing for local areas in England. It also fails to recognise a whole food systems responses to major food system issues, whereas Sustainable Food Places and its 80 members have always championed this approach.


Leon Ballin, Sustainable Food Places Programme Manager says:

“We’re pleased with the recognition of the value of food partnerships, but without support, funding or a statutory requirement for local areas to set up food partnerships and forge ahead with food plans, there will be little difference on the ground for local authorities struggling with budget cuts to public health and dealing with rising food insecurity.”

Sustainable Food Places will encourage and support our England members to get involved in the public consultations on procurement and mandatory reporting as well as continue to feed into Defra’s next steps on “work with local authorities and food charities in these priority areas”. We will also work with our UK wide network and movement to continue to lobby the government to take a stronger stance on addressing food system issues and make having a food partnership in every local authority area as a statutory requirement.


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