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Stop confusing the public about sustainable eating!

Posted by Duncan Williamson on 29/02/12 15:32 PM

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This is the perhaps not-so-surprising advice for the government from a recent report from the EFRA committee. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for government departments to talk to each other? But on the topic of sustainable food, it sometimes seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Last week a Committee of MPs has suggested DEFRA and the Department of Health should talk to each other and address “the mismatch of advice between sustainability and health advice”.

We would agree. We’ve been suggesting this for quite a while and it’s the reason why we worked with top nutrition experts to define a healthy and sustainable diet, adjusting the government’s own nutritional guidelines, turning their Eatwell plate into the Livewell plate – healthy for people and planet.

Interestingly the EFRA committee was actually talking about fish. Maintaining sustainable fish stocks is a key issue for DEFRA. And in recent years, Fish Fight, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and our own ‘More Fish’ campaign have all helped to establish the urgent issue of “over-fishing” in the consumer’s mind.

But at the same time consumers also hear “eat more fish” - from the Department of Health indeed. Fish less, eat more? Not surprising people are confused!

In 2008 the UK government published ‘Food Matters’, a well received report that recognised the problems of the current systems and the genuine need for food policy to be joined up. It highlighted the need to look at sustainable diets. It’s a clear, simple win-win that a healthy diet is also sustainable, as demonstrated by the WWF Livewell report.

But since 2008 we have rather lost our way, and have moved away from connecting the health and environmental messages together.

Increasingly the UK government and the food industry are talking in terms of food ‘security’ and the UK’s role in feeding a rising global population. The three pillars of food security are access, availability and use of food. Of a global population of 7 billion, over half are suffering from the current food system, one that can already provide enough calories to feed 8 billion people well. Policy frameworks, weak governance, agricultural subsidy systems, trade regulations and incentives all contribute to the inequities in the current food system.

It is not the UK’s job to feed the world or to change the world’s eating habits. Instead we need to work towards ensuring we can at least have access to healthy sustainable foods ourselves. What better place to start than by simplifying our food messages, shifting people to healthier and less resource intensive foods? And why not embrace our traditions and support the producers of the many fruit and vegetables that we excel at growing?

One other excerpt from the Committee is worth highlighting: “while this inquiry specifically addresses fish consumption, we note that similar issues will arise around meat and dairy consumption.” Exactly.

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