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Organic sector reacts to ‘deeply disappointing’ Food Strategy white paper

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The UK organic sector says the Government’s new Food Strategy white paper is “deeply disappointing’ and offers little hope in breaking the junk food cycle. 

The Government’s new white paper its response to the wide-ranging independent review of Britain’s food industry conducted by the food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, published last year. 

In his review, Dimbleby made a number of high-profile suggestions, including a significant expansion to free school meals, greater environment and welfare standards in farming, and a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption. On diet and public health, Dimbleby recommended a sugar and salt tax to fund healthy food options for those in poverty. 

Many of these recommendations are entirely omitted in the Government’s new Food Strategy, or have been shunted into an upcoming health inequalities white paper. 

The Soil Association said the Government’s white paper could not be described as a strategy and had failed to provide “the serious response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy that the people of this country – deserved”.

The organic charity said it was “deeply disappointing that a PM who was so personally affected by the link between Covid outcomes and poor diet should turn away from the opportunity to break the ‘junk food cycle’ and give people a food system that supports rather than undermines their health and wellbeing”. 

While observing that the government’s food strategy “looks broken”, the Soil Association suggests “there are fragments of policy that offer hope … amid otherwise “thin gruel”. The group says: “Some hope remains with the Health Secretary, reportedly a convert to Henry Dimbleby’s analysis, and his promised Health Disparities White Paper. This could yet rise above internal party politics to sanction action on two of Dimbleby’s flagship recommendations: extending free school meal access and making healthy fruit and veg more affordable with the revenues of a salt & sugar levy on processed foods.”

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) said the new white paper amounted to “yet more rhetoric”. And it noted what it called a “stark contrast” between UK Government support for organic with that seen in Europe and the US. 

Commenting, OF&G chief executive, Roger Kerr, said: “Our global competitors have issued clear commitments to developing the organic sector, with the USDA recently establishing a$300m Organic Transition Initiativeto provide comprehensive support for farmers moving to organic production. Closer to home, the European Commission’s Food to Fork strategy includes €186m support to promote organic and sustainable farming.

“Although our own administration appears to recognise organic as a ‘higher environmental standard’ they completely fail to recognise the significant commercial and environmental opportunity that exists. With 20% of the world’s nitrogen fertiliser and 40% of its potassium unavailable due to western sanctions, the inadequacies of this ‘business as usual’ Food Strategy must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Sadly, the government lacks the ambition to step away from a flawed food system that’s been embraced over the last seventy years. It has left us at the tipping point of an environmental and human health crisis which has the potential to be catastrophic unless decisive action is taken.”

This white paper offered ministers an opportunity to address virtually every one of the critical issues that we face today – and they have totally blown it”. 

Alex Smith

Alex Smith, founding director of organic food pioneer Alara Wholefoods said the white paper was a “complete damp squib”. He told Natural Newsdesk: “On one hand, the Government recognises the enormous stresses that the NHS is under as it tackles an epidemic of chronic disease, much of it caused directly by the food supply chain – yet they do nothing about it. They acknowledged at COP26 that climate change is really, really serious, and that the food supply chain is responsible for a third of all climate change gases. And they do nothing about it. They say that good, secure jobs are a high priority and are perfectly aware that the food supply chain employs more people than any other sector. And they nothing about it. They say that biodiversity loss is really critical and their advisers tell them that food supply chain is responsible for two thirds of all biodiversity loss. And they do nothing about it. They say the cost of living crisis is a critical issue for people, and they are aware that one of the most crucial stressors is food prices. And I do nothing about it. This white paper offered ministers an opportunity to address virtually every one of the critical issues that we face today – and they have totally blown it”. 

Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash

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