The Big Food Challenges - sustainability, security and health

United Kingdom

The Vision for 2030 - Food 2030

Food 2030, the Government’s Strategy for Food, was released last month following extensive consultation and discussion during 2008 and 2009.  Food 2030 sets out the priorities of the UK Government for the “big food challenges” of sustainability, security and health.  It is a welcome attempt to “join up” the thinking in this area and sets out a vision for a sustainable and secure food system for 2030.  It identifies Actions in six “core” areas and includes a set of Indicators for Sustainable Food to be used to measure progress.

Food 2030 moves the UK debate on food sustainability ahead in a very productive way. Whilst it may not be quite a “shared vision” it is nonetheless a very good “heads of terms” that pulls together many different policy initiatives and thinking about complex issues with national, European and global dimensions.  It has a pronounced emphasis on the issues surrounding ensuring that the UK has a low carbon food system but does not ignore the difficult issues surrounding healthy and sustainable diets.

The vision has four main strands:

Consumers are informed, can choose and afford health, sustainable food. This  demand is met by profitable, competitive, highly skilled and resilient farming,  fishing and food businesses, supported by first class research and development

Food is produced, processed, and distributed, to feed a growing global  population in ways which:

  • use natural resources sustainably

  • enable the continuing provision of the benefits and services a healthy natural environment provides 

  • promote high standards of animal health and welfare

  • protect food safety

  • make a significant contribution to rural communities, and

  • allow us to show global leadership on food sustainability

Our food security is ensured through strong UK agriculture and food sectors and  international trade links with EU and global partners, which support developing  economies

The UK has a low carbon food system which is efficient with resources - any  waste is reused, recycled or used for energy generation.

The release of Food 2030 is timely and some might say long overdue.  The past six months have featured a myriad of new publications and reports on the issues and more are set to follow in 2010.  Food 2030 has been welcomed generally by all players in the food sector, with the emphasis on a collaborative approach in particular seen as a good thing.  Although it has been the subject of some criticism for focussing on “soft” targets rather than grappling with the bigger issues, it is hard to disagree with much of what is contained in Food 2030.  To dismiss it as just tinkering at the edges or garnering support for existing mechanisms would be doing it an injustice.
 
As Food 2030 notes, the food system operates at national, EU and global level, so actions and responsibilities identified in the strategy cover the full range of participants in the food chain - from action by individual consumers, review of the Common Fisheries and Common Agriculture Policies, retailer action to assist customer decision making and support for international organisations to tackle issues such as maternal and child malnutrition and the effect of rising food prices in developing countries. 

The Six “Core Issues”

The specific role of the strategy is to provide underpinning for the vision of “a sustainable and secure food system” by 2030 and identifying the Government’s role in creating it. To do this Food 2030 looks at six “Core” issues, outlines the “Challenges” and then lists a number of “Actions”.

1.Encouraging people to eat a healthy, sustainable diet.

2.Ensuring a resilient, profitable and competitive food system.

3.Increasing food production sustainably.

4.Reducing the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions.

5.Reducing, reusing and reprocessing waste.

6.Increasing the impact of skills, knowledge, research and technology.

A more detailed discussion of each of the six “Core” issues will follow in a Law Now entitled Food 2030 - The Six Core Issues

Implementation and Moving Ahead

It is notable that so many of the initiatives identified in Food 2030 do not involve regulatory intervention, although the need for proportionate and targeted regulatory intervention is raised throughout the document.   Rather, emphasis is given to encouraging voluntary industry-led measures wherever possible. This trend has already been apparent from the introduction of the Food Standards’ Agency traffic light front of pack labelling and most recently the scheme introducing calories on menus for certain restaurants.  The UK food and drink industry operates in a very competitive world market and needs sufficient clarity, coherence and consistency in policy making to give confidence to make the kinds of investments needed to meet the challenges but not over-regulation.  Concern is noted that over-regulation in the UK could simply serve to move problems elsewhere.  However, equally, the introduction of, and pressure on industry to be a part of, voluntary schemes, should be monitored closely least it have the same effect only without the checks and balances needed by legislation.

To aid in the task of monitoring progress towards Food 2030, Defra also produced “Indicators for Sustainable Food” that are aligned to each of the 6 core sections. Although the indicators for reducing the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions and for measuring the impact of skills, knowledge, research and technology are still under development and there is insufficient data at present for an indicator for reducing, reusing and reprocessing waste, building into the system systematic monitoring of improvements is useful.

Throughout the document, Food 2030 the global nature of the issues. At the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation World Summit on Food Security (November 2009), the world leaders attending adopted a declaration pledging renewed commitment to eradicate hunger from the face of the earth “sustainably and at the earliest date.”  Developments in the UK can be seen against the wider world backdrop. The vision includes a role for the UK in international developments and recognition of the importance of solutions to domestic issues that do not simply transfer a problem to another country.