UK food strategy document calls for more seafood industry investment, support

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has supported the conclusions of the "National Food Strategy: An Independent Review for Government," published on 13 June.

A government-backed document aimed at combating rising food costs and establishing a more resilient, healthier, more sustainable, and more affordable food system in the United Kingdom contains suggestions that will likely impact the country's seafood industry.

The whitepaper, "National Food Strategy: An Independent Review for Government," was published on 13 June. It contains independent review of the food system by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, with the goal of delivering a “prosperous agrifood and seafood sector" for the U.K. and ideas for the country to take advantage of post-Brexit opportunities to reform its food systems.

In comments on 13 June, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he has accepted the majority of the whitepaper's recommendations, which he said create “a blueprint” for how to back the nation's farmers, boost British industry, and help protect the U.K. against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding food security.

Johnson said the U.K. government will invest GBP 24 million (USD 30.1 million, EUR 28.1 million) to support the plan's call for seafood-related research and innovation, as part of the GBP 100 million (USD 125.5 million, EUR 117.1 million) U.K. Seafood Fund. This fund also allocates at least GBP 65 million (USD 81.6 million, EUR 76.1 million) for infrastructure investments, including port improvements and refurbishment of aquaculture and seafood-processing facilities.

Johnson said he also backed the whitepaper's call to launch an independent review to tackle labor shortages in the food supply chain and to investigate the role of automation on domestic staffing and migration to ensure U.K. businesses can access the labor they require.

“Harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food – unlocking jobs across the country and growing the economy, which in turn will ultimately help to reduce pressure on prices,” Johnson said.

The U.K. agri-food and seafood sectors employs over four million people in the U.K., and Johnson said the U.K. government will work to spread economic growth across the country in line with a conjoined plan to boost pay and productivity in both sectors. Johnson said the delivery of the whitepaper is well-timed following the knock-on impacts on the country's food supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The whitepaper identifies the U.K.'s seafood sector as "an essential source of employment," particularly for the Humber region. Grimsby, it said, is England’s leading fish-processing hub, accounting for around one-third of all U.K. seafood-processing jobs. It called for government support for the Grimsby Cluster to ensure the sector can take advantage of new trade deals, adapt to the changes brought on by global warming, and ensuring the uptake of skills training to provide the industry with sufficient labor to ensure quality seafood continues to be delivered to the U.K. market and for export.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls applauded the conclusions of the whitepaper and Johnson's response to it.

“With pressures on food supply chains mounting due to [the] war in Ukraine, the publication of the government’s food strategy whitepaper today is both timely and welcome,” Nicholls said. “It rightly recognizes the importance of the entire food chain to U.K. communities and economy.”

Nicholls said the whitepaper’s focus on climate change and sustainability were also of great significance for the food industry.

“It is particularly heartening to see the importance of sustainability highlighted in the report, as this is a key focus for the industry and aligns with UKHospitality’s wider sustainability drive,” she said. “We will be responding in due course to the consultation on mandatory food waste reporting for larger businesses to ensure the regime is workable for hospitality operators.”

In addition to the supply chain challenges, the paper also highlights the need for investment in food education to tackle the “growing problem of obesity in the U.K.” According to the report, the proportion of adults living with obesity has “increased significantly” over the last four decades, leading to increased health issues.

Part of the solution, the paper said, is getting U.K. adults and children to eat more seafood.

“Eating habits have and continue to change. Portion size in some categories has grown, and indications are that households are spending less on ingredients for home cooking and more on processed foods which require little preparation and can be high in fat, salt, and sugar,” the paper said.  “We also do not eat enough seafood – a healthy and potentially sustainable source of protein, vitamins, and minerals; oily fish is also rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.”

The paper said the government will undertake a series of programs to build evidence-based strategies to improve the diets of U.K. residents. Included among the program is a curriculum focused on improving the eating habits from an early age through education programs – something Nicholls said will be a “powerful tool” for improving diets.

“In addition, the report’s focus on food education in schools is something we particularly welcome,” she said. “This is a powerful tool to help shift behaviors to healthier choices and will hopefully also act as a bridge to bring a new generation of workers into the hospitality business. We look forward to working alongside the government and stakeholders via the Food and Drink Sector Council to achieve the mutual goals set out in the strategy.”  

Photo courtesy of Michael Tubi/Shutterstock


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