National Food Strategy report: what you need to know.
In September 2019, the government opened a consultation on the National Food Strategy. This covered everything from farming to retail, and was the first opportunity in 75 years to have your say on the way food is provided in the UK.
We asked for your views on how vegetarian and vegan food can revolutionise the food system for future generations.
Over 2,500 people took part in the Vegetarian Society’s survey and shaped our statement to the government. Many of you submitted your own statement, amplifying the voice of vegetarians and vegans. By responding in your thousands, you put issues such as meat-consumption, sustainability and the environment at the top of the agenda – thank you!
Here’s what you need to know:
What did the report say about eating less meat?
The report was very clear that the UK needs to reduce meat consumption in order to reach its climate goals. They said: “The government’s Climate Change Committee has said we must reduce the amount of meat we eat by 20– 50% in order for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. In this strategy, we have set a goal of a 30% reduction over ten years.” They went on to say “reducing meat consumption is the single most effective lever we can pull to improve the productivity of our land.”
The National Food Strategy public forums identified a clear dislike for the notion of a meat tax; however, the report did suggest there were some easy ways to reduce meat in popular products. They said: “It may prove easier to reduce the meat content in ready meals and convenience foods, where alternative proteins may soon match the taste and texture of, say, mince, but at a fraction of the price. Around half of the meat we currently consume is contained within processed foods.”
How did the report measure up to the recommendations we made?
• The government should ensure vegetarian cooking and nutrition is taught in schools, alongside the environmental impact of meat, fish and dairy.
The report suggested “food tech remains a second-class subject” in schools and should be improved. They recommended introducing children to more fruit and vegetables, with sensory education beginning at early years. However, they didn’t go as far as to recommend vegetarian cooking and nutrition is taught in schools, as we suggested.
More widely, the report agreed that school meals should be healthy and sustainable. They recommend that “the requirement to serve meat three times a week should be removed from the School Food Standards.”
• A shift should be made in moving farming subsidies away from meat and fish and in favour of plant-based foods.
The report identified the negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment and that change was needed to meet the UK’s net zero target. It highlighted “one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions and free up land for nature is to cut back on animal proteins.” They went on to say that “roughly a third of the ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes) budget – £500m–£700m per year – should go on paying farmers to manage the land in ways that actively sequester carbon and restore nature.”
Although the report doesn’t explicitly recommend vegetarianism, it is encouraging to see a recommendation for a shift towards more sustainable farming, which includes less animal proteins.
• The government should consider switching all food provided in the public sector to be vegetarian and vegan, unless someone requests a meat or fish option.
The report stated that “the Government should reform its Buying Standards for Food so that taxpayers’ money goes on healthy and sustainable food.” They went on to recommend that a new Reference Diet is developed, and should be used across all public sector food procurement. They said: “This diet is likely to recommend serving less meat and dairy and more wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and pulses, to maximise the health and sustainability of the food served.”
We are encouraged to see a recommendation for public sector organisations to serve less meat and that these standards will be required across the board, including those which are currently exempt (such as schools and local authorities).
• The government should change advertising regulations for meat and fish to reflect the impact of these foods, as they have for smoking.
The report identified the majority of the meat people eat is sold by supermarkets and chain restaurants, and therefore they have a vital role in influencing consumer behaviour on eating less meat. They said: ”In one recent poll 76% of UK adults said health is a major motivation for their choice of foods, and 53% cited the environment.”
The report suggested retailers have a big part to play in making these motivations a reality. They said: “Supermarkets and the hospitality sector are extremely adept at nudging consumers towards certain products and behaviours. They can do this by changing their layouts and menus, using discounts and promotions, reformulating their own products, changing their packaging and labelling, and using their enormous purchasing power selectively.”
They went further to recommend that all food companies with more than 250 employees publish an annual report on a number of food metrics, including “sales of protein by type (of meat, dairy, fish, plant, or alternative protein) and origin.” The report suggests that publishing these figures will enable more scrutiny and “maintain public pressure on companies to do the right thing.”
We’d like to see the report go further and recommend changes in advertising regulations. However, we are pleased to see the report recognise the impact large retailers have on consumer choices.
• The National Food Strategy should ensure improved labelling and more retail space for vegetarian and vegan food.
The report recommended the use of environmental impact labelling so that consumers can understand the impact of their food more clearly. They highlighted: “There is currently no consistent in-store labelling to show the environmental impact of food. Evidence about the impact of environmental labelling on consumer choices is mixed, but simple systems like traffic lights can help us to make informed choices about what we buy. Creating a simple and consistent method of labelling would ensure that all shops and manufacturers give us the same kind of information about our food. Having to record information about the environmental impact of food production could also influence the way that manufacturers make their products.”
We’re pleased to see the support and recommendation for environmental labelling, which may help to inform more people about the impacts of their food choices. We would have liked to have seen the report go further in recommending consistent labelling of vegetarian products and more shelf space for these products.
• The government should incentivise companies to promote vegetarian and vegan food, including investing in new companies and technologies.
The report suggests that the UK should be at the forefront of developing new meat alternatives, with a study from the Royal Society predicting that “10% of the global meat industry could be replaced by alternative proteins within 10 years.” The report recognised: “We have the right appetite for it, with our devotion to ready meals and our growing tendency towards ‘flexitarianism’. Already, the UK buys a third of all the plant-based alternatives sold in Europe.” The report went on to recommend: “The Government should put £50m towards building shared facilities in a commercial ‘cluster’ for entrepreneurs and scientists working on alternative proteins.”
We are encouraged to see the report take such a strong stance on investing in companies and technologies which promote plant-based proteins.
Thank you to everyone who shared your views and helped to shape our statement to the government. You’ve put vegetarian and vegan food on the agenda and we’re pleased to see many of your recommendations make it into the report. The government is expected to review the findings and respond within six months.
You can read the full report at https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org