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Farming for the future of 5-a-day

On 22nd November 2017, the Food Foundation held an event in parliament to launch two reports, Farming for 5 A Day and Eating Better for Less and discuss how to secure the future of the 5-a-day through better agricultural policy.

Laura Sandys, Food Foundation Chair, introduced the event by explaining that the event was taking place as part of the Peas Please initiative which is aimed at driving up vegetable consumption across the UK, and follows the very successful Veg Summit which took place at October 24th

 

Professor Martin White kicked off the event with the facts about fruit and veg consumption.  His slides are available here.  His key points were as follows:

  • We have very wide inequalities in mortality between rich and poor – a ten-year difference in life expectancy.
  • The biggest causes of these inequalities are behavioural– smoking first, then diet – 17% of the risk of all-cause mortality. Low fruit and vegetable consumption, legumes, nuts and seeds account for the lion’s share.
  • Fruit and vegetables consumption tends to displace other parts of the diet if people eat more of them – usually protein or carbohydrate and so eating more fruit and veg not only brings direct benefit but indirect effects of reducing consumption of other foods we should be eating less of.
  • The new Eatwell Guide recommends that 40% of the weight of the diet be fruit and veg which is the equivalent of 7 a day. The relationships between consumption and beneficial outcomes on mortality is fairly linear.
  • We are eating nowhere near enough – the majority are eating between 1 and 3 portions. Levels of consumption among children are much worse than adults.
  • Intake is strongly patterned socio-economically.
  • Vegetarian and Mediterranean diet patterns tend to be the healthiest and aligning best with the Eatwell Guide. The latter diet has been linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes.
  • We are can shape our taste preferences and this is best done at an early age.
  • Availability, cost and convenience all play an important part in how much fruit and vegetables we eat.

The event launched two reports

Farming for 5 A Day which considers the impact of Brexit on the cost of our favourite 50 fruits and vegetables and considers what scope there is for Agriculture Bill to support British horticulture and drive up demand for fruit and vegetables.

 

 

 

And Eating Better for Less which documents the USA’s experience in implementing Nutrition Incentive Schemes as part of its Farm Bill and how this experience might apply in the UK

 

 

 

Comments from the panellists:

 Kerry McCarthy, Chair of the APPG on Agroecology

  • Brexit gives us an opportunity to think about what our food and farming system should look like.
  • There are some real challenges which we need to consider, poor diets and dietary inequality, long term food security, animal welfare, low paid work and declining biodiversity.
  • With the Agriculture Bill, which will be coming after the summer recess in 2018, we should consider whether agricultural subsidies prioritise public goods – currently Pillar 2 has now currently focused on trying to get farmers to diversity and to support them grow foods which are healthier for us to eat. We need to learn from Canada’s experience in growing more pulses which was triggered by government leadership.
  • Farming for 5 A Day highlights 16 fruit and veg which could become more productive in the UK. Supports the recommendations made in the report.  Political impetus has been on meat and dairy and horticulture has been neglected.   Policies in increase demand such as expanding Healthy Start is very important.  We have much more opportunity to use the Eatwell Guide to steer public procurement of food.

Neil Parish, MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee

  • The pledge which I made at the Veg Summit to conduct an Inquiry into Horticulture will take place next year, in time for the Agriculture Bill coming in later in 2018.
  • We have a real opportunity to expand some key crops (e.g. apples).
  • We have opportunities with funding to invest in labour saving technologies and on higher tech solutions to farming.
  • We also need to target education to reach children when they are young. I accept that its linked to income.  We need to have availability of fruit and veg at a price which is affordable. I am not a believer in being dictatorial.  The agriculture policy is an opportunity to grow more and increase availability of fruit and veg.  We can potentially link to sources of hot water like the Dutch.  But we do need a source of labour too.  Otherwise we risk exporting our industry.  We need to not act too departmentally – DEFRA needs to link to DFE and Department of Health – this is an opportunity to join up policy making.
  • The report shows that we can grow more of 16 crops. I’m keen we do this – both organic and conventional and using good techniques which reduce pesticides etc.

Dr Caroline Johnson, EFRA Select Committee and Health Select Committee

  • We’re not very successful at eating five a day and we need to change education of children and their parents.
  • I accept that pricing is important, and government has worked to increase incomes, and the Healthy Start vouchers but may of the vouchers are not taken up. We should consider why they are not being used and what are the barriers to uptake.
  • Convenience is important for consumers.
  • We have some opportunities in pregnancy. What you eat in pregnancy has an impact on the baby for the rest of its life.  Midwives have an important role.
  • Advertising is important. I would like to see supported by public health funds, advertising of in-season British produce with specific recipes.  We have a generation of people who don’t know how to cook.
  • Horticulture industry – we need to strengthen the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s role. And we need to ensure good access to labour and for agricultural chemicals we need to ensure they are properly scientifically appraised.

Helen Whately, Chair of the APPG on Fruit and Vegetable Farmers

  • This event brings together health and agriculture.  Yes, I want to see British people eat more fruit and veg, for the country’s economy and for our health.
  • The report brings together data which have not been brought together before and is very helpful. The health inequalities are a real worry for me.  Schools are doing some great work – particularly at primary schools.
  • There is a role for government in this and now there is an opportunity and some risks. Seasonal labour is a real problem for my constituents.  In part due to the falling value of the pound, but this is also a growing problem across the EU.  Some of it is to do with pay.  And with this comes a risk that prices will go up and that production will move overseas (this is already happening).  I’m keen to ensure we fix the workforce problem.  There are opportunities to make more use of technology and this will help with efficiencies and make it more productive so there is a role for government in supporting R&D and technology investment.
  • And there is a lot which can be done to supporting marketing by government. Public procurement is a great opportunity, so is education and skills, including cooking skills.

“This is a moment of opportunity with Brexit and the Agriculture Bill to seize the moment for the economy and for the health of our country and the population and to bring together what we do in agriculture and food for the good of us all.”  Helen Whately MP

If the Eatwell Guide says we should be eating 40% of our diet should be fruit and veg is there any reason why agricultural subsidies shouldn’t be for fruit and veg?”  Chris Rose, Asplins PO

 “What you do need is a share of it!…We do now have a chance to fundamentally change what we do” Neil Parish MP

“Isn’t it odd that for historic reasons we have huge amount of subsidy for unhealthy food and so little for healthy food”  Helen Whately MP

We need more transparency on where government funding is going so that comparisons can be made with the Eatwell Guide – whether it’s on subsidies or marketing.  Modi Mwatsama, UK Health Forum

How do we create an Agriculture Bill which will serve us in the long term and which brings together health, education and agriculture with a visionary approach?  While we need to ensure agriculture takes health into account, health also needs to recognise the role which growing can play in contributing to public health.  Caroline Drummond, LEAF

It is always a challenge to get cross departmental action.”  Neil Parish MP

The healthiness of our food is an agriculture subject so payments need to be linked to that.”  I’m a great believer is that much of healthy food, the way we produce is important.  The environment and healthiness of the food are connected.

Farmers want to look after their land and so linking payments to the environment makes sense and its likely these will continue.  It is likely that payments which were under pillar one shift to being made based on productivity – bringing health into this may be difficult.  The Eatwell plate is a balance, we can’t say that nothing apart from fruit and veg is healthy. “I don’t think we can pick and choose between foods based on how healthy they are”.  Caroline Johnson MP

“We could implement a Seasonal Workers Scheme tomorrow. We don’t need an Agriculture Bill to do it.”  Teresa Wickham

It is a decision of the Home Office and not for the Agriculture Bill but the government is trying to secure a robust dataset on this to make decisions. This is a very hot potato politically.  There will probably be another short sharp Inquiry on this in the new year.  If we don’t have our fruit and veg picked we will export our industry.  (Helen Whately and Neil Parish)

We shouldn’t be talking in terms of subsidies.  Many fruit and veg growers are not reliant on subsidies and they don’t want subsidies but need other types of support.  Teresa Wickham

A different perspective on the labour question.  A lot of people want to get into horticulture and many who are in it who are wanting to run their own (small) businesses.  Now this sector is very small but has potential to expand a lot with the right investment.  It struggles as it receives absolutely no support.  Security of land tenure is a problem.  What can be done to encourage greater inclusion of this small sector in policy discussions?  Rebecca Laughton, Land Workers Alliance

The sector could grow very much, I’m very interested in the practical ideas you have got on this. Please come and see me!  Neil Parish MP

In addition to considering how we better support horticulture, how do we tackle some of the dietary inequality we face as well?  Anna Taylor, Food Foundation

The US has justified continuation of the agricultural support system by the wider public goods that it brings and there was a $100m rider on the last Farm Bill which made support for community projects which directly subsidise fruit and vegetable at the point of purchase through vouchers, prescription programmes etc.  We could learn from these programmes.  See this report from Robin Hinks, Churchill Fellow.

Food for Life has played an important part in helping schools to educate children better about food and to serve better food in schools. The school fruit and vegetable scheme could be a really important policy both to help children with their taste preferences and help British farmers.  The True cost of food report just out says that for every £1 spent on food, the additional costs for the NHS are 37p to deal with health crises caused by our diet.   We also need to consider that the micronutrients content in fruit and vegetables might affected by soil degradation. Recognising that production of fruit and veg is a public good is a key starting point for policy discussion.  Liz Bowles, Soil Association

It is imperative to start making the arguments now: soil health, the food and farming contribution to farming emissions and stewardship of the land.  I want to pin down to what extent the government is going to be more interventionist on this front.  Healthy Start, schools fruit and veg, pregnancy related grants are all important – we need a substantial push on this not just tweaking around the edges.  This is a massive opportunity to take this issue more seriously.  Kerry McCarthy MP

There is an opportunity, if we wanted to, to fundamentally rethink the way we put in place agriculture support and therefore you could put it down to the means of production and type of production and the type of healthy food we are developing.  “It would be quite revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it!”  We just have to make sure they are not trade distorting.  We have to make sure as we support food production, and means of production, that we have excellent quality and then have systems to get it to those people who can’t afford it. Neil Parish MP

The problem is one of alignment of goals.  The food systems primary goals is economic and not aligned with health goals.  But these goals can be brought closer together.  The key issue is around profitability of healthier foods.   We have a massive health burden.  We need to think about manufacturing and processing as well, and fruit and veg tend to be less processed.  The food system doesn’t bear the costs of externalities and that is highly problematic.  Currently there is no incentive to change that.  The recent high court decision on unit procing of alcohol could provide some important case law for public health.   Prof Martin White, University of Cambridge.

The sugar tax is a sign that the government has been willing to intervene.  The challenge is working out what at the right interventions and understanding the mix of reasons which prevent people from eating well.  The economic case is clear, yet it’s hard to find interventions which work.  Helen Whately MP.

Harder to use the tax system in a way which is not regressive for those on a low income.  Caroline Johnson MP

Sugar tax is welcome but it took a long time to get there and is only a first step.   We need to be far more proactive on the public health front/.  Do you just focus on tackling “the bads” but can you also look at boosting “the goods” like fruit and veg.  Kerry McCarthy MP

I have been working with the Food Foundation on this project and I don’t think in the last 30 years of working in agro-politics have I ever seen such a measure of unanimity and agreement around the sense of what we’re trying to do here… so it begs the question.  You present the machinery of government and  we now need DEFRA to come forward and do something positive and say something proactive to make this happen.  How do we make sure that in 6 months’ time we have made some tangible progress?”  Jack Ward, British Growers

It is easier for DEFRA to come through with means if production, spoils and growing of the crops.  “It is more difficult when we have to (quite rightly) link it into healthy food, marketing and manufacturing but I am more than happy to take this on in the Select committee”.  We will try and incorporate this focus in the Inquiry.  Neil Parish MP

There are 4 Select Committees coming together on air quality. Once that’s done, I think there is scope to bring together health and EFRA on how our food and farming system relates to public health.  Kerry Mc Carthy MP