National Food Strategy: None of our criteria was met. Does this matter?

None of our five criteria was met (they are listed at the end of the post). This matters. This blogpost summarises why.

  • Criterion #1: None of their recommendations are about how to support households to have economic access to sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food. Instead they refer to their Terms of Reference which are in conflict with the responsibilities the Government have under the 1996 Rome Declaration. As we say in our post, pointing out this conflict is the least they could have done.
  • Criterion #2: The National Food Strategy has nothing to say about food safety, assurance and integrity 
  • Criterion #3: Our assessment (made in the second part of the post) is that their five recommendations relevant to corporate activities, if implemented, would have limited impact or even be counter-productive.
  • Criterion #4: The National Food Strategy has nothing to say about UK preparedness for food shortages and scarcities. Remarkably, too, there is no analysis of the impact of Brexit on food supplies.
  • Criterion #5: Their team has not grappled with population level interventions, nor discussed or made recommendations about building collective resilience. Instead, they have a limited, prescriptive view of individual behaviours, including the use of pejorative terms, such as ‘junk’ food and ‘food swamps’  about dietary choices and community neighbourhoods respectively.

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2: “A lack of people [ ] with the technical expertise to challenge poor science”? (1)
The first part of our criterion #3 post itemises seven questionable assumptions made in 154 words in two paragraphs of the Executive Summary. Moreover, many of the references in the document are irrelevant to the propositions put forward.

Here are two examples, for the detail see the notes at the end of this post: The first is is on page 47, footnote 18 (2). The second is is on page 19, footnote 13 (3).

Was there was a lack of people in their team who had the technical expertise to challenge poor science?

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3: The limitations of their consultation process
In addition, some of the people acknowledged at the end of the National Food Strategy appear not to have been consulted in any depth. For example:

  • Professor Tim Spector is listed as one of their ‘other experts’, and his book Spoon-Fed: Why almost everything we’ve been told about food is wrong listed in their ‘additional reading list’. But had the team read it? What Tim says about calories, saturated fat and salt runs counter to some of their assumptions.
  • Professor Tim Lang, too, is listed as one of their ‘other experts’, although his most recent book Feeding Britain isn’t listed. It’s therefore surprising that, although they recommend research into alternative proteins, (4) they don’t mention investment in horticultural growing, preserving and storage technologies, a subject about which Tim has argued for a long time because such investment is necessary for the UK’s future food security.
  • Birmingham’s Director of Public Health, Dr Justin Varney, is on their Advisory Panel. Yet they appear not to have gleaned from him who, from our extensive network across academia and the food sector, we could have introduced them. (5) (6)

The are also several individuals and many bodies of expertise missing from their acknowledgements, so presumably from their consultation process too. For example:

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Other criteria?
We asked ourselves this question before we read the National Food Strategy: How do answers to all the criteria questions we asked contribute to the best of humanity? Given our assessment, it seems now an irrelevant question.

This begs the question whether or not our criteria were valid. We believe they were.

No doubt other people and organisations have other criteria upon which to assess this National Food Strategy: The Plan. They may, too, challenge our choice of criteria, and/or the assessment we’ve made. If you’re one of them, please do comment below this blogpost and/or please do get in touch directly with us.

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notes

(1)  The paragraph title is from  the book about the pandemic by the Director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, Spike: The virus and the people. The inside Story, co-authored with the FT journalist, Anjana Ahuja. The full quotation on page 137, is This bitterly contested issue — over where the science that informed the UK pandemic response came from — highlights the lack of people inside Number 10 with the technical expertise to challenge poor science. 

(2) This statement is on page 47: You can give yourself a temporary dopamine rush by eating a chocolate bar or a burger. The reference is to this paper: Wise, Roy A. 2006 Role of brain dopamine in food reward and reinforcement. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 361: 1149-1158. 10.1098/rstb.2006.1854 which says nothing of the sort.

(3) On page 19, there is this statement, Farming uses 70% of all the fresh water on earth.  The reference is to this 2017 FAO document: Water for sustainable food and agriculture: A report produced for the G20 Presidency of Germany. On page 6, there is this different statement: On average, agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals.

(4) Growing enough protein for the growing global population is a challenge, but not an issue for UK food security given our climate and terrain, though there are issues with carbon emissions from some production processes.

(5) In mitigation, Dr Varney’s time and focus has inevitably been on the pandemic since early 2020. Nonetheless, both he and also the Food Foundation (who are working with Birmingham Public Health on food projects) know of our work and connections.

(6) This could have included Parveen Mehta of Minor Weir and Willis, one the the UK’s largest fresh produce handlers. His recent podcast interview with Nick Booth, the first in our Making a Meal of It series, highlights what the team could have learned.  Dimbleby’s chief independent advisor, the Food Foundation’s  Anna Taylor, joined myself and Shaleen Meelu to be shown round the Minor Weir & Willis HQ on 16th March 2016 by Parveen himself.

(7) On page 148 about GCSEs ‘in the light of the post-Brexit skills shortage in hospitality, and on page 281 in the glossary definition of the Environmental Land Management schemes: ‘Following Brexit, the UK will no longer participate in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).’

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The five criteria were:

  1. Do their recommendations support all UK households to have economic access to sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food?
    Our response to this question is here.
  2. What are their recommendations about ensuring food safety, assurance and integrity?
    Our response to this question is here.
  3. What recommendations do they make to curb the power of corporates who make and promote products that damage human and planetary health?
    Our response to this question is here.
  4. What contribution does this plan make to UK preparedness for future food shortages and scarcities?
    Our response to this question is here.
  5. How much does the plan reflect a reliance on individual behaviour, and how much on measures to promote collective resilience?*
    Our response to this question is here.

And, finally, how do answers to all of the above contribute to the best of humanity?

notes:

Our criteria do not cover everything in the National Food Strategy, but only those areas in which we have focussed our work over the last seven years. Hence there is nothing in our response to the Strategy about matters which we don’t feel competent to do so, for example, about farming and land use.

Our response to the National Food Strategy Call for Evidence was submitted at the end of October 2019 and can be found here.

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