Food plan for England condemned by its own senior adviser

The government’s top food adviser has condemned what ministers have heralded as a landmark national plan to tackle food poverty and obesity, saying it is “not a strategy” and warning it could mean more children will go hungry.

The Henry Dimbleby verdict is another bad news for Boris Johnson, as the white paper is a direct response to last year’s wide-ranging overhaul of the British food system, which was led by the restaurateur.

Johnson’s plan was heralded as the first of its kind since rationing 75 years ago, positioning England as a leader on food and the environment in a post-Brexit world. But the final plan removes many of Dimbleby’s key recommendations.

“It is not a strategy,” said the founder of the León food chain about the final document, which has been shown to him. “It doesn’t set out a clear vision of why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done.”

The document, which will be presented to the House of Commons by Environment Secretary George Eustice on Monday, is largely unchanged from a leaked draft revealed by The Guardian last week.

In his document, Dimbleby made a number of high-profile suggestions, including a significant expansion of free school meals, higher environmental and welfare standards in agriculture, and a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption.

Instead, the few specific policies chosen by the government include increasing domestic tomato production and making it easier for deer hunters to sell wild deer.

Dimbleby said the cost of living crisis meant there was even more need for free school meals than when he drew up his plan, which called for up to 1.5 million more children in England to receive them.

“With inflation as it is, both the amount spent on free school meals is significantly less in real terms than it was a year ago and the number of people in need is significantly more; we need to address that,” Dimbleby said.

“I hope that it is being analyzed, people are being inflated into poverty and food suppliers are being inflated so that they do not produce healthy meals,” he warned.

He also criticized one thing that changed between the draft seen by The Guardian and the final version, which involved the removal of commitments to facilitate the importation of food with high environmental and animal welfare standards.

He said: “Once again the government has sidestepped the issue of how we don’t just import food that destroys the environment and is cruel to animals: we can’t create a good fair farming system and then export that damage abroad. I thought the government would address this, but they didn’t.”

Dimbleby’s recommendations on diet and public health, such as the use of a sugar and salt tax to fund healthy food options for the poor, were also ignored, and the topic was diverted to a forthcoming book. target on health inequalities. “There really wasn’t anything in there about health,” Dimbleby said.

The plan also does not include an ambition to reduce meat consumption, with Dimbleby’s report noting that 85% of the UK’s cultivated land is used to grow feed for livestock or raise meat.

“They’ve said we need alternative proteins but they haven’t mentioned the inescapable truth that meat consumption in this country is not compatible with a farming system that protects agriculture and sequesters carbon,” he said.

Opposition parties also expressed concern. Jim McMahon, the Labor Party’s shadow secretary for food and environment, said the government had “absolutely no ambition” to tackle food price crises.

He said: “This is nothing more than a vague statement of intent, not a concrete proposal to address the major problems facing our country. Calling it a food strategy borders on the absurd.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ rural affairs spokesman, said the lack of protection over food standards for imports risks being “a total betrayal of British farmers”. He said: “Time and time again, Boris Johnson has promised one thing and then done the opposite. It just shows that this government cannot be trusted to defend rural communities.”

Food television presenter and climate activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall condemned the lack of a plan to reduce meat and dairy consumption, calling it “just lazy and weak and pandering to the status quo of the food industry”.

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, said: “It seems that what broke this strategy was not a lack of good intentions but a narrow-minded ideology that believes the government should not step in to reshape diets.”

Louisa Casson, head of food and forests at Greenpeace UK, added: “By ignoring climate scientists and their own experts in favor of industry lobbyists, the government has published a strategy that will ultimately only perpetuate a broken food system and you will see our planet cook itself.”

In announcing the food plan, Johnson called it “a blueprint for how we will support farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic crises by safeguarding our food security.”

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