The UK Health Forum today released a new report, Fresh Start: A framework for healthy and sustainable diets. This report lends weight to calls for the UK Agriculture Bill – which was announced last week – to ensure that future agriculture policy supports improvements in human health alongside the welcome focus on better environmental outcomes. This is because the agriculture and food system costs the economy £45 billion every year from food-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
The three-part report* comprehensively examines current patterns of food and alcohol production and consumption, assesses how they compare to official recommendations, and their impacts on health and the environment. An international review of forty farm-to-fork actions that have been proposed or implemented around the world was consulted on with stakeholders, and the priorities outlined in a 10 point frameworkof recommendations.
Among the report’s key findings are:
- The majority of agriculture subsidies support animal products such as meat, dairy and feed. These have the greatest impact on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
- Minimal domestic agriculture support is earmarked for healthy and environmentally sustainable produce such as vegetables, fruit and pulses; and domestic production of these is in decline. Most beans and pulses are used to feed animals.
- Reflecting these production trends, most people in the UK are also failing to eat sufficient amounts of healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and fish.
- Instead, our food system and diets are dominated by unhealthy, ultra-processed foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. These heavily marketed foods make up over 50% of the food consumed in the UK, causing some of the highest levels of obesity and diet-related conditions in Europe. They also have a major impact on the environment e.g. 1,700 litres of water is used to make a single 100g chocolate bar.
The priority recommendations in the report include:
- Shift agriculture and fisheries production and practices towards healthier and more sustainable crops, livestock and fish.
- Introduce fiscal measures and pricing policies to support healthy and sustainable food system objectives e.g. taxes on unhealthy foods and environmentally polluting foods; use the revenues raised to fund healthy and sustainable campaigns and initiatives such as better school meals and hospital food.
- Ensure that trade agreements support a healthy and sustainable food system e.g. through adopting high standards for the environment, animal welfare and health; as well as measures to minimise food waste in the places where we import our food from.
Electronic versions of all three reports are available on their website www.ukhealthforum.org.uk.