Our food system is making too many of us sick and causing long-term environmental harm – we can do better
We are set to wait six months for the government to respond to Henry Dimbleby's recommendations for a national food strategy with a white paper - an ideal recipe for inaction.
Britain hasn’t had a food strategy for over a decade - and with everything left to the market we see the result. A health crisis, with diabetes and obesity rising rapidly at huge cost to the NHS, lasting environmental damage, and inequality baked in.
Henry Dimbleby and his team have identified significant problems, and make the case for fundamental change. They dish the myth that more exercise will solve the problem. They do everyone a service by moving the focus from a problem blamed on individuals to shine a light on a food system which is highly efficient but is creating major problems. The question is whether this government is capable of responding with the scale and ambition the problems demand. Their initial response was not promising.
There is hope if the burden of responsibility of obesity can be moved away from the individual
Dimbleby calls for intervention in the commercial incentives that drive what he describes as the junk food cycle. He calls for a food mapping exercise so that we can all understand exactly what is going on, but this is an industry shrouded in secrecy and commercial confidentiality. Just look at the private equity houses fighting for the chance to strip value out of Morrison’s and their in-house supply chain – it’s hard to imagine the current government putting the public interest above all those rich pickings for their friends.
He warns of the danger of lower-standard food imports and the risk that will come from Australian-type trade deals - yet the government has repeatedly rejected calls from farmers and campaigners backed by Labour and many of their own MPs to maintain UK standards in any future deals.
We are set to wait six months for the government to respond with a white paper - an ideal recipe for inaction. They had to be dragged by a rebellion in the House of Lords into promising a review of food security more than once every five years, and still haven’t produced an initial analysis.
It is hard to imagine an issue more fundamental to most people than the food we eat - we too often take for granted that for most of us there is an affordable and reliable supply. Dimbleby has shone a light on how that has been achieved but also explains why it is not sustainable in future.
Labour takes the need for a proper strategy seriously and we are committed to fix Britain’s broken food system, ending the growing foodbank scandal caused by rising child poverty, and ensuring families can access affordable healthy food.
Almost everyone beyond the zealots in the Conservative Party back our calls to support British farmers by not accepting lower food standards on imported food. And there is hope for millions of our fellow citizens if the burden of responsibility of obesity can be moved away from the individual. We have a very efficient food system, but as Dimbleby reports, it is making too many of us sick and causing long-term environmental harm. We can do better.
Daniel Zeichner is the Labour MP for Cambridge and Shadow Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries.
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