Part one of Henry Dimbleby's delayed National Food Strategy has now been published, with a shift in focus to address immediate concerns arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and post-Brexit trade agreements.
The original intention was for this to be an interim report published part way through the process of developing a comprehensive plan for the future of the UK food system. Instead, more immediate concerns about what and how we eat have been brought into the spotlight as a result of the pandemic and the impact of future trade deals on the food supply chain. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in the food supply chain and significant social inequalities in the health of our nation and the ability to access food (never mind healthy food). At the same time, significant concerns have been raised about the nature and quality of imported food following our departure from the EU.
Consequently, Dimbleby has elected to turn his report into a two part project. Part One (published at the end of July 2020) sets out urgent recommendations to: i) ensure that the nation's most disadvantaged children do not get left behind; and ii) protect the UK's existing environmental and animal welfare standards during trade negotiations. Part Two (to be published in 2021) will aim to lay out a blueprint for a better food system.
Part One's recommendations to the Government are as follows:
- Expand eligibility for free school meals to all children (up to 16 years) in households in receipt of Universal Credit, or equivalent benefits;
- Extend summer holiday food support to all areas of England so that it is available to all children in receipt of free school meals;
- Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 and make them available to all pregnant women and to all households in receipt of Universal Credit (or similar) with children under 4;
- Extend the work of the new 'Food to the Vulnerable' ministerial task force for a further 12 months, to July 2021;
- Only agree to cut tariffs in new trade deals on products which meet the UK's core environmental and welfare standards;
- Adopt a statutory responsibility to commission and publish independent reports on any proposed trade agreements; and
- Adopt a statutory duty to give Parliament time and opportunity to properly scrutinise new trade deals.
These are all commendable proposals. The fly in the ointment, however, is that whilst the Government has committed to publishing a White Paper six months after publication of Part Two of Dimbleby's review, Part Two is not due until some time in 2021. In the meantime, trade deals continue to be negotiated and recommendations to avoid children going hungry may not be implemented.
Part One of the two-part National Food Strategy contains urgent recommendations to support this country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period on 31 December 2020. It focuses on making sure a generation of our most disadvantaged children do not get left behind, and grasping the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be.