‘Prescribing veg and cutting meat’

Shifting diets will help enable farming that protects nature and tackles climate change, while also addressing diet ill health and food insecurity, says much-anticipated National Food Strategy.

Historic reform to diets, food education, farming and meat consumption are needed to improve the UK’s health and restore the environment, a landmark report has said.

Henry Dimbleby’s much-anticipated National Food Strategy was released today (15 July), with bold ambitions to counter the diet-related deaths in the country and enable farming in a way that protects nature, creates sustainable livelihoods and tackles climate change.

Among its wide-ranging recommendations, the report said meat consumption should reduce by 30 per cent, which could be done by reducing meat in processed food or food to go, as well as people cutting down what they eat in the home.

The report, the second of two, was compiled after two years of analysis and meetings with people from every part of the food system, including “deliberative dialogues” with citizens across the country, to establish what changes the public is willing to embrace. These include things like discarding things like a ‘meat tax’ in favour of government interventions to incentivise dietary change, such as has been done in things like solar power.

“The recommendations we have put together are intended to create the kind of food system the people of this country say they want – and need,” Dimbleby said.

“However, state intervention is rarely, if ever, sufficient by itself,” he said. “You can’t send in the army to improve the cooking in schools, or imprison people for serving bad hospital meals.

“Transforming the food system will require change at all levels: structural, cultural, local and individual. But it is work that must be done.”

In addition to cutting meat, fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30 per cent, the report said, and suggested GPs might be able to prescribe fruit and veg to people at risk of suffering from dietary ill health or food insecurity.

Making these diet changes, particularly around meat, will allow intensive farming to decline, and enable a more regenerative use of livestock to fertilise fields, moving away from fertiliser and soya for animal feed – both key contributors to climate change via nitrous oxide and deforestation respectively.

“The next big shock to our food supply will almost certainly be caused by climate change, in the form of extreme weather events and catastrophic harvest failures,” said Dimbleby. “Agriculture alone produces 10 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions, despite constituting less than one per cent of our GDP.”

‘The next big shock in food will be climate change’ – Henry Dimbleby. 

Setting out in stark detail how poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England, Dimbleby also calls for a Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax to end what he dubs the ‘Junk Food Cycle’ and availability of cheap processed food causing obesity-related illness, which could be used to fund the expansion of Free School Meals.

The report has been widely backed and supported by food charities, campaigners, civil servants and celebrities, with the government due to respond within six months, and there has been speculation about exactly what, if anything, the government will choose to act on.

“It’s likely that the elements of the strategy focused on vulnerable children and ideas for procurement in schools and hospitals will be easy for government to pick up,” said chief executive of the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission, Sue Pritchard.

“But I hope the level of consensus (that the need to transform our food and farming system is urgent) revealed in Henry’s rigorously researched plan, will give the government confidence in taking action on more challenging aspects of the Strategy. Our research shows clearly that citizens want government to act – I hope they hear that call.”

Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner, said this is “no time for half-hearted measures”. “If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public’s health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families,” he said.

Soil Association chief executive, Helen Browning, said: “The meat question will spark debate, but the evidence is clear that dietary change will be needed to enable more nature-friendly farming.

“We will need to eat much less industrially farmed meat, which can drive deforestation and land use change through its reliance on imported feed crops, and ensure that the meat we do eat is produced in regenerative systems that support biodiversity. The debate in farming shouldn’t be about whether this is so, but about how to make this transformation quickly and fairly, for both farmers and citizens.”


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  1. Whilst overall I am inclined to agree with some of this idea however – if you’ll excuse the pun I fear a lot of it is but “pie in the sky” to the majority of people out there otherwise why would such places as KFC and McDonalds thrive and in many cases are extremely busy? Sadly with all the will in the world many cannot afford this mythical life style, or bottom line, would actually want to live it! I can already hear the disgruntled cries from many school, work places and hospital canteens when it is announced that today we will be having, rice and beans, or some other vegetable only dish, not just for the main course but also for the entree AND the sweet – there will be no alternative!

    OK so many are seen to agree with the idea on paper but, when sat at the table things can and often do change! As is stated above – The report has been widely backed and supported by food charities, campaigners, civil servants and celebrities, Most of who sadly neither live in the same world as the majority in this country or are trying to make a name for themselves.

    Then we come to the “threatened and recommended” means of putting this system in place – such amazing things as TAXing sugar and salt! May I say to the many “experts” out there, how many of you can remember when sugar came off the rationing cards, after the end of the war! Do you remember the sugar sandwiches, made because there was no other way to eat the stuff – I do! TAX sugar and we go back to that situation – please don’t try to tell me otherwise . . . . also remember a certain film made many years back which included the song “a Little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way” Go look at many of the pills we all seem to need these days, how many state “covered with sugar” or something similar. then we come to salt – terrible stuff that is get rid of it – but funnily enough salt is considered one of the “staffs of life” There is and needs to be a certain amount of salt in most foods we consume and especially as at the moment it is fairly warm we need that extra salt to rplace the salt we have lost whilst perspire . . . . OK sweating! So come please you experts if you are going to tell us how to live can you please tell us something to consume that we will like – we all (most of us) like a nice piece of bacon, you can’t cure bacon without salt! Other religions may have pork in various methods banned from consumption but I’m sure they will have something that needs salt. Thank you everybody for reading this rather disjointed one persons view and I am standing by for incoming – as always The Walrus

    1. Hi Walrus, there are plenty of tasty meat-free meals. Our family reduced our (at home) meat consumption to a fortnightly treat at the weekend. We do still occasionally enjoy bacon, and make sure that any meat we buy comes from a high welfare standard supplier, such as Riverford.
      It’s going to be much harder to make some of the other changes that need to happen if the human race is to survive on earth!

    2. Hi, I don’t disagree with you, as you say there Fermentalist there are many tasty meat free meals, in fact I normally am meat free at least four days a week (frequently more) with Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays plus either Satyrday or sunday [often both] being meat free – all day. With, like you a pasher of bacon being the only piece of meat on the “meaty” days (I have been known to eat other meat of course but never very much in one sitting). My small consumption of meat here is not the point I’m getting at here but the overall so called “Normal?” consumption of meat in which large amounts of meat are consumed at one sitting with little if any vegetables as part of the meal. Sadly the majority of people whilst agreeing that meat consumption must be reduced (i.e those that write on here and other forums like it – we know it must be reduced, drastically) but they are not the ones willing to do it!

      We are after all “creatures of habit” if we ate meat last week we’ll want to eat meat this week, not only that but if father / mother eats meat then the children too will often eat meat – it take a lot of will power to break away from tradition. My main point is the seemingly short sightedness of taxing sugar and salt to reduce certain effects forgetting both the positive sides of the use of those substances and not looking into the main causes of the problem. Whilst the usual activity after any occurance is for the masses to jump up and down shouting “ban it ban it!” this report was written by so called experts who one would expect would and should investigate further before putting the “ban it” comments on the table as it were! The Walrus

    3. Indeed, point well made. As you rightly observe, changing the behaviour of creatures of habit will take more than taxes. I am always astounded at the high numbers of people that still smoke cigarettes for example. There is no easy way to change the behaviour of an idiot. Science won’t work and taxes alone do a poor job. Controls on what may be produced and sold might be a better alternative. I don’t think packs of raw salt and sugar are the villains here – it’s the hidden sugar and salt we consume every day.

    4. Ah our bad habits! One of the big problems with bad babits to my mind is the lingering view of many who should know better yet compund the situation by saying one thing and doing another! Take smoking as you so rightly say one of the larger problems of today. When I first left school (a few years ago I might add) I started smoking, not so much because I wanted to but because it was expected across society – you were not a man unless you smoked – sort of thing! Sadly that situation soon becomes an addiction which makes the habit even harder to break, especially when half your friends and family still not only smoke but expect you to as well! The behaviour of an idiot? To my mind the indiots are the ones who put on the side of the tobacco product “warning smoking can damage your health” but still sell them and charge extremely large amounts of TAX and complain that the NHS (our sacred cow) would be better off if nobdy smoked! NO the ones ones that really annoy me are the ones in such places as Hospitals etc who when filling in you details on a form ask “do you smoke?” You answer NO I gave up in **** to which ther answer IS NOT as may be expected say well done but more a case of “ah former smoker” as if you have done something wrong!

      At this I usually walk out. But going back to sugar and salt – much the same thing here I’m afraid, as you say not so much the packet of salt or sugar but more the amount put into your body via unknow means! As an aside did you know that the Scots have more salt in their bread than the average English person would even conside – it’s that habit thing again – coupled that to what do you put on your porridge salt (Scottish) or sugar [shudder] (English). where wolud we be with out our bad habits? The Walrus

    5. Behavioural change can be so hard! One of the key findings of the report was indeed about breaking the ‘junk food cycle’ that often starts in childhood – rather than ultra processed convenience foods, children having access to real food. Learning how to cook and enjoy it is key for health outcomes throughout life, and the benefits multiply as people then know how to cook healthy meals for their own family further down the line.

  2. Working in a school in a deprived area, no matter how healthy we try to make our menus and how we try to make this fit what our children will eat, most vegetables are thrown in the bin everyday and the list of foods the children are prepared to eat is very limited and mostly unhealthy. A huge majority of food for those on free school meals actually ends up in the bin. Catering companies use the cheapest option and very often the people preparing the good are not good chefs, especially when it comes to vegetarian options.

  3. This may be a very silly question and I am happy for you to tell me if it is, but I have tried to find an answer and failed: when we eat treat livestock with growth promoters and then eat the animals, are the growth promoters destroyed in the cooking process?

    1. Hi Doingmybest – whether higher levels of growth-stimulating hormones pass through into meat does not seem to have been proven. The levels detected seem no higher than normal (higher in the blood and milk of pregnant cattle for example). There is concern and WHO guidance however, over the use of some of the antibiotics used as supplements to stimulate growth in livestock. This concern centres around antibiotic resistance developing, such that bacteria emerge that are capable of infecting humans as well as the livestock and are then resistant to the antibiotics we have available. As I’m sure you are aware – there is already concern over the widespread use of antibiotics in the human population having this same result.

  4. Yes I’ve found my self pondering if the increase in peoples height we see over time is more due to the growth promoters they ingest rather than better nutrition?

    People talk of system change. Perhaps one of the things we could do is take subsides away from meat and dairy and give those same subsides to fruit and veg. Would that level the playing field a bit or a lot?

    1. An interesting suggestion, but as many studies show ‘it’s not the cow but the how’, with the method of production being key. Organic and regenerative agriculture can offer a way of providing ‘less and better’ meat and dairy without the disastrous health and environmental consequences of factory farmed meat.

    2. Yes I take your point. With there being different ways to rear animals it does muddy the waters a bit. I have come across systems where animals are reared exclusively on grass but it seems takes longer to rear them. People would have to eat a lot fewer animals since we don’t have enough land on the planet to eat as we do now on a fully grass fed system. Here I’m really pushing the limits of my little knowledge, but aren’t many animals ‘finished’ on concentrates which may include soya from cleared rainforest areas?

      With people like Adam Henson wading in on the side of dairy and meat and not really clarifying which system is being used. And also quoting the rainforest destruction caused to bring me my soya mylk glossing over the fact that Provamel claim their Soya is grown in Europe. This really doesn’t help that much.
      A very complicated situation. But thanks for your reply, much appreciated.

    3. Anthony, hello. With reference to your comments on food subsidies I am totally in agreement with you on this, in fact to my mind any and all subsidies on food of any kind with certain exceptions should be removed forthwith. The majority of exceptions would be more a case of subsidising the farmer to enable him/her to grow the food rather than giving them money because they are growing it and/or people want it. If people want it let them pay a fair price with no add ons (extras because the super makets will only accept foodstuffs in certain shapes and sizes etc).

      The subsidy would be more a case of supplying fences in areas occupied by predators of that food stuff etc. and even then there would need to be a strong reason for the subsidy – e.g. a third world country where farmers manage to grow some food despite poor soil etc. but are also frequently the crops are attacked by say wolves – a poor farmer could not be expected to add extras like fertilizer and strong fences to enable him to feed the local area – help him with the fences! Hypothetical? maybe (we don’t get many wolves around here) but as we are talking general it is a starting point. the Walrus

  5. Well at least I’m not the only one wondering! I was thinking more of obesity, since the longest queue in my High Street is always outside the fried chicken shop (no names but an American State may be involved) and we all know that the chicken is the most dosed-up food animal on the planet. I also can’t help but notice that most of the people in the queue would probably be classed as obese.

    I also agree with the comments about food subsidies. but with some reservations. If we had to pay the true cost of our food not only would we be very shocked but we would have to transfer the subsidies to Universal Credit or many people would go hungry.


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